THE MELBOURNE AGE, 10th March 1997


Maddened Monk’s Life

Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the opening night of A Stretch of the Imagination was how few people turned out to see the 25th anniversary production of this classic Australian play by Jack Hibberd.

On the other hand it was the kind of reception that perfectly suited the timbre of the play and its churlish antisocial protagonist Monk O’Neill. Monk is a complex character with many depths, but with his misery, prickliness and obsession with his aging, ailing body, he’s hardly the poster boy for a good knees-up.

A Stretch of the Imagination is an existentialist play about death, and carries the palpable stench of regret - for a life wasted and for a life lived to the full that is now over. It is a work of bitter celebration. Monk O’Neill lives in isolation and simplicity in the bush, and he divides his day by reliving the past and laying it to rest, noting the failings of his body, and railing against the inexorable passing of time.

The interesting thing about Monk is that he’s not just fading away to oblivion in a nursing home. Monk attacks aging and death with the same intensity and vigor that has marked the rest of his life; Hibberd wrote this play 25 years ago with the energy of youth, and Monk is a vibrant, demanding antihero.

This production directed by Greg Carroll and performed by Peter Hosking, does justice to this extremely demanding play. Hosking portrays Monk as a monstrous figure, an emotional Frankenstein who leers and leaps around the stage and dives into the audience. His physicality is tremendous, and Hosking’s brave, vulnerable performance acts as a perfect counterpoint to the grotesquerie of the character.

The set is simple and stylised, featuring only a red curtain, a backlit screen , and a large pot of urine. The screen serves as Monk’s cabin and when he enters only his looming shadow can be seen, a device that works well on both an aesthetic and symbolic level. The music and lighting, by Joe Dolce and Greg Carroll respectively, are both superb and complementary to the production.

A Stretch of the Imagination is a play that may have found its time; many of the people in the audience saw the original production, and there is no doubt that Monk’s journey on stage was given extra relevance and meaning by that very real sense of so much time having passed since the play was written.

Review by Fiona Scott-Norman

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