ON STAGE MELBOURNE: On Line Theatre
There's always the fear that reprising earlier plays will expose a text that has not withstood the test of time.
Ideas that were radical for their time grow quaint and irrelevant over the years and come to be superceded by more
contemporary issues and techniques. A Stretch of the Imagination passes this litmus test and, from the opening
scene till the closing scene, wraps the audience in the pleasure of its language. In part, the text is ageless because of
Hibberd's extraordinary manipulation of language - his puns and linguistic associations and that singular Hibberd invention
of mixing erudite phrases with earthy Australian slang - and, in part, due to the character of Monk O'Neil who is appealing in a repulsively hypnotic kind of way.
O'Neil is a cantankerous, repulsive, vulgar, erudite old curmudgeon (for some reason I kept thinking of Patrick White), who can free-associate between tomatoes and Pythagoras, Narcissus and politicians, Baudelaire and fucking and never drop the ball. He can call Proust 'sport' and get away with it; he can clean his feet with rosary beads and get awat with that, too. In fact these moments of contradiction (of elevateing the base or debasing the elevated, depending on how you look at it) reach an apotheosis when he attempts to piss into a large pot on stage, turns to the audience and delivers the contrapuntally poetic line, 'I void nill.' It's a significant line because, although Monk O'Neil lies so far outside the boundaries of socially acceptable behaviour that he can get away with just about anything, he cannot get away from growing old and dying. He cannot get away from his decaying body and the moment when 'all natural function falls into abeyance'. At the heart of Hibberd's unsentimental, racous, bawdy text is a poignant narrative of bodily decay and the encroachment of death. 'What's the good of a plank.' he laments, 'if you can't raise a length.' An alarm clock on stage is a constant reminder of Monk's fate and although he constantly tries to avoid the issue by travelling other paths he is always forced back to the inevitable. Time is of the essence. 'If time was slower, there would be more time to spend in the past. I look forward to the past.'
There is no doubt that the text is both demanding and difficult to control but Peter Hosking is more than up to the task. His visceral interpretation of the decrepit, bodily obssessed Monk is compelling and faultless. The set design by Corrigan, unlike some of his architectural projects, is spare and minimalist and the stark contrast of red and black suggests the pared down essence of theatre mentioned by Hibberd in the program notes. At the same time the inspired use of a lit screen, behind which, at various times, the stretched and elongated form of Monk O'Neil appears is like those contrapuntal moments in the text itself. The shadowy form of Monk O'Neil is both monstrous and deformed and yet strangely stylised and delicate. More Kabuki or butoh than Dimboola.
Review by LISA KERRIGAN