21st March 1997


Showcase for talent

This production celebrates the silver anniversary of Jack Hibberd’s extraordinary gift to the Australian theatre, A Stretch of the Imagination. It is good to know that in the words of the play’s would-be immortal anti-hero Monk O’Neill, "the piston of life pumps again".

This play can be seen as Jack Hibberd’s version of The Tempest, for it seems to sum up all that he knows and loves about the theatre. Monk O’Neill’s island, like Prospero’s, may seem uninhabited but it is actually possessed by many voices telling of many adventures, or are they imaginings?

Monk’s magic is as perverse as Prospero’s too, for he demands that we join him as spectators of his approaching death. Hibberd liberates actor and audience and enables both to enjoy the farce or pathos - whichever is appropriate, through irony and parody.

Monk is an almost impossibly virtuoso role. For it was Monk O’Neill who first swam the waterless Lake Eyre, it was he who was dux of classics at Xavier College and he again who hobnobbed with Proust at Montparnesse etc, etc, etc. His mind and body encompass any number of apparently autonomous entities that contend in ceaseless argument, moving anarchically from one scenario to another, pausing only briefly to "park the Malvern Star against a flying buttress".

In this production Peter Hosking’s Monk is besieged, battered but rarely bettered as the "cyclops in his cave", his voice and body matching the plays demanding range, both physically, emotionally, and geographically. There is also an element of German cabaret in the performance which suits the moments of macabre.

Peter Carrigan’s deceptively simple setting provides some clever behind the scenes interludes.

The best testimony of this remarkable play and its unique character is that it stands out as one of the benchmarks available for Australian male acting talent. Why the major State companies have not presented the best of our mature actors in this role says nothing for our enterprise

Review by John Preston

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