Adding her name to that short and illustrious list of Australian actors to have played the iconic half-buried heroine of Samuel Beckett’s 1961 play, Belinda Giblin delivers a radiant reading of what is still one of the most demanding dramatic texts ever foisted upon an actor.
Directed by Craig Baldwin, this production locates the play – as far as is locatable – in what might be the remains of a coastal suburb in the aftermath of some kind of apocalyptic disaster.
A battered and scorched advertising hoarding (“There’s NOTHING like it …”) welcomes us to partake in an idyllic Australia that, perhaps, no longer exists. Perfect one day, gone the next.
A huge bituminous upwelling of asphalt and garbage takes up the entire Old Fitzroy stage. Broken outdoor furniture and sporting goods seem to be fused into it. A forlorn cricket bat sticks out of the mass like a memorial to a dead culture. It’s a very Australian wasteland.
An electric bell sounds and Winnie, occupying the crater of this mini volcano, snaps to life. Dressed in a slip though wearing a string of pearls, she greets the day with surreal good cheer. After all, she has everything she needs in the trusty handbag – her toothbrush, her mirror and lipstick. She also has a revolver.
Meanwhile, her decrepit partner Willie (Lex Marinos) crawls around the rear of the mound, occasionally dragging himself into a chair to peruse an old newspaper. While Winnie witters, he grumbles and groans.
Despite all this, Winnie assures herself that “this will have been another happy day!”
Then the sun sets fire to her parasol.
I never got to see Ruth Cracknell do her Winnie. I did see Julie Forsythe’s at Belvoir in 2009. Giblin’s Winnie is of a very different cut.
Forsythe’s Winnie seemed grounded in post-war trauma, a survivor of some flyblown English vaudeville. Giblin’s Winnie is Australian and middle class – upper middle, probably. She’s a suburban creature, privileged in life before whatever it was happened.
Forsythe was entrancing. Giblin is no less so. Happy Days is as much a score as it is a monologue and it demands meticulous attention and concentration. Here, fixed in a small theatre close-up, Giblin makes light work of Winnie’s constant self-interruptions, her pauses and her prattling.
Though Willie is mostly silent and often hiding, Marinos is a strong presence, especially in the shorter, bleaker second act when he undertakes a desperate climb of the imprisoning heap that has a now desperate Winnie buried up to her neck.
Is he trying to rescue her? Is he just hoping to get his hands on that revolver and put an end to it all? Who knows, but it’s a powerful moment.
Opportunities to see this play don’t come along often. Don’t miss this one.