David Walter on Beckett
Beckett’s Happy Days destroyed me when I saw it in London. Winnie is being buried alive in a drift of sand. She’s a terminally optimistic woman, seemingly delusional but actually very brave. Winnie hums, sings, and recites half-remembered poetry in the face of death: “That is what I find so wonderful. A part of one’s classics remains, to help one through the day.”
Winnie’s struggle to stay human in a cruel world is heartbreaking. But you also appreciate the beauty of Winnie’s resilience: “That is what I find so wonderful. The way man adapts himself. To changing conditions. Oh yes, great mercies.” Just because it’s ironic doesn’t mean it isn’t true.
Robert Stanier on Sondheim
There’s another revival of a Stephen Sondheim musical on at the Menier Chocolate Factory in London: this time it’s Assassins. Once again, it’s got five stars from all the reviewers. Once again, my wife and I will go to see it. I’m pretty certain we’ll love it, but none of our friends will see it: we’re the odd ones.
Yet go back 50 years and Sondheim was hot. West Side Story was and is a huge cultural event. Musicals were massive: the biggest selling record of 1965 was not Dylan or the Beatles but The Sound of Music LP.
Today the musical (I mean a new one, not a Mamma Mia style collection of hits) is a minority pursuit; an art form a bit like poetry that has a smattering of enthusiastic follwers, but is bypassed by most people. I could go on about Sondheim’s brilliance (and I acknowledge he is an acquired taste), but the trend won’t change.
My question is this: as trends for genres come and go, what of today’s ‘hot’ bits of culture will survive, and how will they survive? When will they move from mass participation to minor interest? In the meantime, in a way, the lack of interest is good: it keeps the ticket prices down.
The image of the original poster for Assassins is from Wikipedia.