A Stretch of the Imagination

After working during 1970 with John Romeril and the actors at the APG to develop and stage Marvellous Melboure, Jack diverged and wrote the above monodrama about an outback philosopher, Monk O’Neill, who interlards his daily surviving chores with theatrical re-enactments of important segments from his long past.

The play lasts nearly two hours, and requires a virtuosos actor and an interpretative director. The actor is required to physically transform into younger versions of himself, and as well to transform into other characters. Stretch, among other things, dramatizes, place, time, the strange workings of memory, history, a care for the environment, remorse, and death.

This comico-tragic work has been performed in China (Sanghai, Beijing, 1987) in Mandarin, and was the first Australian play produced in that country. It has also been produced in London (twice), the USA, Germany and NZ.

“A Stretch of the Imagination is the first unmistakable Australian theatrical classic. I know it is a dangerous game predicting classics, when the only real test is the test of time; but it is just because I believe this play needs time for all its imaginative possibilities to be fully explored that I am willing to take a chance on it. I doubt there will ever be a definitive performance of Stretch. It is the first play in Australian drama against which an actor can be measured. – not just because of the extraordinary demands it makes as a virtuoso piece, but the subtleties and complexities of the text make possible any number of imaginative readings, and the play’s ‘meaning’ is the sum total of those potential recreations. It is this that marks a theatrical classic from a first-rate play of its time.”

- Margaret Williams (Currency Press, 1973)

“A Stretch of the Imagination (1972), a monodrama by an old man facing death, blends comedy and pathos, and is widely regarded as his finest work to date. Its protagonist is a quintessentially Australian character, a teller of tale tales who brings together positive and negative aspects of the national legend.”

- The Cambridge Guide to English Literature, 1996

“Why has Monk O’Neill taken so long to reach England? Jack Hibberd wrote this play about a surly, voluble Aussie awaiting death in the Outback in 1972; perhaps we’re finally ready for such a complicated colonial….he claims a classical education, reads at least a line of Plato. …Mark Little does him exceptional justice…waving his stubbled head like an angry vulture…batting off condescension for the entire nation. The only time we get to look down on Monk is in his coffin… after he has left all his worldly goods to the Aboriginal peoples.

- Nina Kaplan, Time Out, London, July 2010

A Stretch of the Imagination was produced for BBC Radio in 1975, and Monk O’Neill was played by Patrick Magee.

‘Monk O’Neill comes home…’

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