Set design by Jocelyn Herbert for Samuel Beckett's play Happy Days, Royal Court Theatre, 1962.
Height: 30 cm unmounted, Width: 33 cm
Theatre and Performance (Victoria and Albert Museum, Galleries 103 -106 01/01/2009-31/12/2009)
Set design by Jocelyn Herbert for Samuel Beckett's play Happy Days, directed by George Devine, Royal Court Theatre, 1962. This was the first production of the play in English.
Set design for Happy Days
Beckett pictured his character Winnie trapped in a
mound of scorched earth under an ‘azure’ sky. Jocelyn
Herbert did not think yellow earth worked with a bright
blue backcloth. She made a sketch with an orange
sky and sent it to Beckett, explaining that orange
suggested concentrated heat. Beckett agreed. The word
‘azure’ no longer appears in the play.
Play by Samuel Beckett, 1961
Royal Court Theatre, London
Pencil, watercolour and gouache on paper
Designed and painted by Jocelyn Herbert (1917-2003)
Museum no. S.1052–1983 [March 2009 - September 2013]
Expanse of sand under an orange sky. At centre a blonde woman in a pink dress, buried up to her bosom in the sand. To her left a black handbag, to her right the head of a man facing to back. He wears a yellow boater and reads a newspaper.
Jocelyn Herbert (1917-2003) trained at the London Theatre Studio run by Michel Saint Denis and George Devine, graduating in 1938. The outbreak of war, and the demands of marriage and a family, prevented her from taking up a design career immediately, but in 1956 she joined Devine at the Royal Court Theatre as a staff scene painter and in 1957 designed her first Royal Court production, Ionesco's The Chairs. She worked with Devine for ten years and her minimal settings, in which realistic details were placed within simplified settings, revolutionised post-war stage design. Her work was seen at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre and the National Theatre, where her designs for Peter Hall's productions of The Oresteia (1981) and The Oedipus Plays (1996), using full masks, were much admired.
Herbert designed the first English production of Samuel Beckett's play, Happy Days, which was directed by George Devine at the Royal Court. Brenda Bruce played Winnie, trapped in a mound of scorched earth but maintaining her optimism against the odds. Jocelyn Herbert later admitted that she was never happy with her design for the mound. To create the unbroken plain specified by Beckett she drew sand dunes receding into the distance, but in the theatre the perspective could only be seen properly from the circle as the mound got in the way. This was not the only aspect of the set to prove problematic. Beckett imagined Winnie under an 'azure' sky, but Herbert did not think that the yellow earth of her design worked with a bright blue backcloth. She made a sketch with an orange sky and sent it to Beckett, explaining that orange suggested concentrated heat. Beckett agreed. The word 'azure' no longer appears in the play.