Friday, 7 March 1997
A Stretch of the Imagination,
Written by Jack Hibberd
Comedy Club until March 23, 1997
Reviewed by Kate Herbert around March 7 1997
"Great idea opening a one-man show on International Women's Day," quipped a friendly fax to actor Peter Hosking on the eve of his opening of Jack Hibberd's classic play, A Stretch of the Imagination.
This production is heartening proof that the monodrama is alive and well and written in 1972. Hibberd's irreverent, garrulous anti-hero, Monk O'Neill (Peter Hosking) is given a new lease of life on his 25th anniversary that happens to fall on the opening night. Hibberd's script is a perfectly crafted, multi-faceted jewel.
This is intelligent writing as we rarely see these years. Have we got anywhere in 25 years? Hibberd never underestimates his audience's intelligence or its ability to grasp a good allusion. He raises the stakes, prodding at boundaries of taste and style, pushing images to their limits, diving from irony and puns to bawdiness or a sight gag about prostate problems. He is wicked beyond belief and not merely for shock value.
Monk is an old bastard alone at One-Tree Hill, watching time tick by on his alarm (alarming?) clock, reminiscing and forgetting old times and old timers. But be damned if he's going to lie down and die like his mate Mort Lazarus who is buried in the yard.
Hosking's impressive depiction of Monk is intensely physical but manages to appear effortless. He looks fresh after a rigorous two-hour performance contorting into Monk's crippled person.
Greg Carroll's swift and crisp direction utilises the cavernous Comedy Club room, moving Monk from stage to bar to audience. "We've put a bit of Dimboola into it," says Carroll.
Monk's dialogue blends Australian idiom with sophisticated lingo, literary and mythic references. He cites Homer ("I was Dux of classics at Xavier"), Shakespeare, Proust and Baudelaire. In Paris he "parked the Malvern Star against a flying buttress". In a pretentious Melbourne restaurant, the wine was "unspeakably Yan Yean".
The piece is supported by some effective recorded music by Joe Dolce. It evokes the Texan desert colliding with the Australian Outback. The simple and portable paper panel that serves as a shadow screen, designed by Peter Costigan for Monk's "private" moments, is perfect in its inspired simplicity
Every international Grand Prix guest should be press-ganged into seeing this impeccable example of Australian culture. This is what Melbourne is all about: the classical, the witty, the intellectual, the passionate and the gut-wrenchingly funny.