"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, A Stretch of the Imagination. The production is heartening proof that the mono-drama is alive and well - even if written in 1972. Hibberd’s irreverent, garrulous anti-hero Monk O’Neill (Hosking) is given a new lease on life on his 25th anniversary, which happens to fall on the opening night.

Hibberd’s script is a perfectly crafted, multi-faceted jewel. Monk’s dialogue blends Australian idiom with sophisticated language, 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". This is intelligent writing as we rarely see these days. Have we got anywhere in 25 years?

Hibberd never underestimates his audience’s intelligence, nor 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.

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." Carroll says.

The piece is supported by some effective music by Joe Dolce. It evokes the Texan desert colliding with the Australian outback.

The simple, portable paper panel which serves as a shadow screen, designed by Peter Corrigan 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.

Reviewed by Kate Herbert

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