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Belinda and Maggie's excellent adventure

Belinda Giblin tells Diana Simmonds about Shoehorn Sonata and touring Australia

Belinda and Maggie's excellent adventure

By Diana Simmonds

Belinda Giblin is sounding a bit croaky and weary - not surprising really - she's been on the road around Australia with Maggie Kirkpatrick in The Shoehorn Sonata for longer than many modern marriages.

"We first did it in 2004 and this tour has been three and a half months," Giblin laughs. She's on the phone from yet another hotel room. This one is in Geelong. "We started in Queensland, then moved on to New South Wales - the regional circuit, I can't remember how many venues. Then country Victoria, we flew to Perth for lots of points in Western Australia. Flew back to Melbourne for the outer Melbourne circuit - so we did lots of Melbourne theatres. We went to Tasmania in between and after Geelong we're up to Gosford, Glen Street and Orange. And that's it."

The Shoehorn Sonata is a very special play: written by John Misto, it started out at Penrith in 2004 and two separate seasons ago. It has been extraordinarily successful all over Australia.

"Christine [Dunstan, the play's producer] came and saw the last night at Penrith," Giblin recalls. "She said - I want it, would you do it if I can organise a tour? We said - yes, not really thinking beyond that. And Christine came back to us with this amazing schedule! But I have to tell you, she's magnificent. For actors to be looked after and sent on the road by her is an experience you don't forget."

Actors don't forget the awful experiences either - the truthful but libellous accidental adventures at the hands of shonky producers would fill a book and probably should. Meanwhile, however, Giblin and Kirkpatrick, two of the much-loved and admired veterans of Australian theatre have been causing tears and laughter all over the country.

"It's true," agrees Giblin. "It's all in the writing. John Misto has written a quite extraordinary play. Maggie says she would like to do it for the rest of her life. There's not a night goes by when people are sobbing one minute and laughing the next."

The Shoehorn Sonata is the story of two Australians - Bridie and Sheila - who were 25 and 15 when Singapore fell to the invading Japanese in World War II.

"Much to the surprise of the Brits," says Giblin sharply. "They didn't believe the Japs could do it, so of course, there was no preparation, no plans. The women and children were finally evacuated on 44 ships and they were all bombed. Bridie and Sheila meet in the water and then spend the next three and a half years interned in camps in Sumatra."

Bridie, a nurse, helps the younger girl survive the horrors of the camps. At the end of the war they go their separate ways and meet up again 50 years on for the making of a documentary about those days.

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