A Stretch of the Imagination
The Cock Tavern Theatre
Overpowering, intemperate and oddly touching, this UK premiere of Hibberd's quintessential Australian monodrama is brought sharply to life by Mark Little. It's an utterly immersive performance from the ably self-directed Little, who is unrepentant, solipsistic and bleakly comic as antihero Monk O'Neill. Ageing, failing and living a hermit's existence in a ramshackle hut in the bush he intersperses the obsessive daily rituals of "another penultimate day" with unself-pitying reminiscence.
Despite the fact Monk is a deeply flawed man, there is enough careless warmth and humour in Little's excellent performance to make him empathetic, even as he enacts the casually cruel ways he leaves his lovers or embarks upon an affair with a friend's wife. His animals seem as important to him as the human companions who shared his life and just as thoroughly destroyed by him. The tenderly told scenes in which he shoots his dog for "one less mouth to feed" and watches his horse die crushed in the debris after Monk arbitrarily cut down One Tree Hill's single tree are beautifully executed and moving.
Hibberd's piece is regarded with a respect bordering on reverence in his native Australia. Here though, it feels like the depiction of the renegade Aussie in the bush teeters into caricature at points. The writing is heavily stylised, with the love it or hate it flavour of Becket, but the imagery contained within the balladic language is satisfyingly evocative. Even the characters' names are slyly unsubtle; our solitary "Monk", and "Mort Lazarus", the dead biker buried in the front yard. Monk has some elegant turns of phrase in his philosophising - "there is no such thing as love, only infatuation attenuated and extended into habit." - in pleasingly stark contrast to the recycled, rickety shack. This inventive little set, too, was designed by Little for whom the entire project is clearly a labour of love. It's an intense, unsettlingly intimate piece, particularly in The Cock Tavern's tiny space. Pungent and almost too forceful, this is undeniably compelling theatre.
Until July 16th
Reviewer: Beth O'Brien