Juliet Stevenson
Juliet Stevenson will star in Happy Days at the Young Vic
© Dan Wooller

The critical cliche of Beckett being a bit of a bore and a miserable old bugger has taken a pounding with the rave reviews for Lisa Dwan's remarkable solo at the Royal Court in which, against all seeming odds, she has managed to make a convincing and connected triptych of Not I, Footfalls and Rockaby.

The desperate testimony of the motor mouth in the first play is followed by the plangent interchange of a child-like middle-aged woman and her dying mother in the second - the longest of the three, playing at almost half an hour - and the stoical fade-out of the third, demanding more witness, if only a recording, to a human life. It's the full cycle: screaming to be born, living astride the grave and kicking against the pricks before subsiding into the void once more.

But of course it's the rhythm and the specificity of Beckett's writing that makes the show so powerful, and Dwan's performance so moving, with one foot on the accelerator, the other on the brake, the overlaying of child-like simplicity with gathering intimations of mortality.

The show is sold out and closes at the Court on Saturday before returning to the Duchess for two weeks in early February. International dates will be announced soon, followed by an already confirmed autumn tour to Cambridge, Birmingham and Salford in September. One just wonders how each venue can possibly replicate, every night, the technical perfection of a show that is so dependent for its effect on the absolute blackness of the black-outs and the seamless stitching of the sound and recorded speech into Dwan's quivering and musically heart-stopping performance.

And while all that is going on, Happy Days are here again at the Young Vic, where Juliet Stevenson will soon be railing against the world and her own poor part in it as Beckett's Winnie, a role that has been famously occupied by a whole roster of great actresses, from the enchanting Madeleine Renaud (my first) through Brenda Bruce, Peggy Ashcroft, Natasha Parry, Rosaleen Linehan and Fiona Shaw.

Indeed, when Fiona bit the bullet at the National Theatre, director Deborah Warner had no qualms about giving us the old song's lyrics as our play-out music at the interval: "Happy days are here again, the skies above are clear again, so let's sing a song of cheer again, happy days are here again."

Now the Times diary has helpfully pointed out that theatre-goers at the Churchill, Bromley, where Happy Days the musical has just opened, might be surprised to learn that Beckett wrote the iconic lines, "Aaaayyy" and "Sit on it, Potsie" as well as "The hair on your head, Willie, what would you say speaking of the hair on your head, them or it?"

Mind you, as the Times also points out, those expecting to see a musical adaptation of the 1950s-themed TV show with the Fonz at the Young Vic will probably wonder why it begins with Mrs Cunningham buried up to her chest in earth.

Most of Beckett's characters are like ghosts of themselves, and there's even more confusion likely among the revenants with a spate of other non-Beckettian phantoms invading the British theatre at the same time.

Richard Eyre's magnificent, symphonic Almeida Theatre production of Ibsen's Ghosts, for instance, starring Lesley Manville, has just re-opened at the Trafalgar Studios (see 1st Night Photos below). And Ghost the Musical is on a national tour, stopping off this week in Stoke-on-Trent, while Ghost Stories by Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman will be shivering your timbers again at the Arts Theatre in London next month.

So I think it's high time someone rushed out a revival of Strindberg's spooky masterpiece The Ghost Sonata and, just to bring the whole thing full circle, how about a look at some of Beckett's fragmentary television plays, starting with Ghost Trio, which comes with music from Beethoven's fifth piano trio, aka The Ghost?

PHOTOS BY DAN WOOLLER FOR WHATSONSTAGE.COM