Happy Days at Birmingham Rep

Happy Days at Birmingham Rep

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Posted 2023-06-30 by dpmfollow

Wed 28 Jun 2023 - Sat 01 Jul 2023

BAFTA award-winning actress Siobhán McSweeney wowed audiences across the globe in a virtual production of Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days pls during lockdown – and now she is looking forward to performing the play in front of live audiences.

The show, which premieres in Ireland, comes to Birmingham Rep on June 28 to July 1 with Siobhán as Winnie and Howard Teale as her husband Willie. The play is pure Beckett - Winnie is buried up to her waist in sand under a hot sky, sharing memories and stories with Willie who barely responds. Despite the obvious limits of her life, Winnie remains cheerful, holding onto happy days.



Siobhán, who is perhaps best known to audiences as Catholic nun and school headmistress Sister Michael in Derry Girls and as the presenter of The Great Pottery Throw Down, is eager to dig herself into the role again. “What drew me to the show initially is there are very few such classical female roles in the English language canon and I think any actress wants to tackle these big roles. I’ve always been a huge Beckett fan and this is one of the great plays so Winnie is a part I’ve always wanted to do.”

And she adds: “With doing it during lockdown, we had a virtual audience of people all over the world which was pretty terrifying but also pretty extraordinary. But live theatre is meant to be done in front of live people, the experience is meant to be shared. Then it really comes to life. I’m really looking forward to the three places we are bringing the show, Cork, Dublin and Birmingham, because I think it will be three different audiences and I’m looking forward to seeing how they respond.”

Directed by Caitríona McLaughlin, artistic director of Dublin’s Abbey Theatre, the production was always intended to play venues. “It was the hope that we would share it with live audiences because we all felt it wasn’t finished and that it has another life in it,” says Siobhán. “We adapted very well very quickly during Covid but theatre is my first love, so the idea of being able to do this and have people see it has always been there.”

The tour has Howard Teale in the role of Willie but retains the same creative team and sets which has given the production a new resonance, Siobhán says. “Everything has been kept in storage these past two years and now it’s been dusted off. It’s funny because so much of the play is about memory and it’s strange opening those boxes and taking things out and remembering them. So now I don’t have to pretend that I have a history with her mirror, her comb, her lipstick, her toothbrush, I already have those memories. Doing this production two years ago has lent a history and a richness to it.”



Siobhán says the part of Winnie is both challenging and enjoyable. “It’s an incredibly potent text, Beckett really knew what he was doing. It’s really unflinching, going into the darkest and scariest, the terrifying chasms of human experience, but he does it with such humour and compassion. We tend to forget that with Beckett. He has been taken by the pseudo-intellectuals who sort of drain all the things that are human about his writing. But there is humour and it’s a very warm play. It’s filled with utter mischief and naughtiness that people might not expect.

And, as she has come to know Winnie, she has recognised similarities with her own character. “I see loads of myself in Winnie. I keep being aware of the idea of ‘oh well, it doesn’t matter’. That’s what I always say, and that’s what keeps me going on. That idea of saying ‘oh it’s fine’ and keeping going is taken to extreme comic effect in this play. I’d always thought I’m a bit of a pessimist but doing Winnie I realise I’m actually a bit of a glass half full kind of person. And there is something quite universal about her, audiences will be surprised at how familiar she will be.

Siobhán has successfully combined a stage and television career, recently gaining the BAFTA television award for best female performance in a comedy programme for Derry Girls. “Winning that was an absolute joy and an utter shock,” she says. “I’m still thrilled and I don’t ever want to get to a point where I won’t be thrilled. I’m very grateful. I think the magic of Derry Girls was the timing, we had an audience waiting for a comedy that would place young girls at the centre so that everyone could feel they were Orla or Clare or everyone had a Sister Michael at their school.”

And this sense of identification also helps with presenting Great Pottery Throw Down. “It was strange at the beginning because I wasn’t playing a role, the last thing an actor ever wants to do is play themselves, but I just put myself into the role of a very enthusiastic and interested audience member, which essentially is what I am. Now I have an utter ball doing it.”

Plus, because the programme is filmed in Stoke-on-Trent, it has given Siobhán plenty of opportunities to visit Birmingham. “It takes days for the pots to dry so quite often I’m heading to Birmingham to have some good food or do some shopping.

Happy Days pl isn’t Siobhán’s first experience of The Rep – in 2010 she took the role of Maggie in Dancing at Lughnasa, a role she has recently reprised at the National Theatre. “I’m really looking forward to coming back to The Rep,” she says. “I remember the audiences in Birmingham really responding to the piece. There is something fundamental about theatre. It’s our human nature to want to go out to people and tell them stories and to connect. It is a very special thing and a great privilege.

Happy Days plays Birmingham Rep on June 28 – July 1, see [LINK https://www.birmingham-rep.co.uk/] for more information and tickets.

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220113 - 2023-06-18 15:19:38

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