Do Not Go Gentle
REVIEWED BY MARTIN BALL
August 9, 2010
An extraordinary cast
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
By Patricia Cornelius
45 Downstairs, 45 Flinders Lane. Until August 29.
DYLAN Thomas’s famous poem Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night is a passionate clarion call to live life to its utmost, even into old age. Such a philosophy of not going quietly – spelled out in the poem’s refrain, to ”Rage, rage against the dying of the light” – provides the starting point for Do Not Go Gentle, Patricia Cornelius’s wonderful new play about a group of characters in a nursing home, facing the trials and tribulations of old age.
The genius of Do Not Go Gentle, however, is that the characters double their roles in telling the parallel story of Scott of the Antarctic’s doomed expedition to the south pole and this astounding leap of poetic imagination sets up abundant connections between the image of Scott’s men trudging wearily one foot after another into blinding snow, and the creeping onset of senescence that dims the light for so many of our older folk.
Cornelius demonstrates remarkable control of tone, with delicate irony framing the heroism of Scott, and an utterly honest and unsentimental exploration of old age.
The script borrows judiciously from Scott’s diary to recreate iconic moments from the expedition – such as the devastating disappointment of discovering that Amundsen had beaten the British to the pole by a matter of weeks and the chilling stoicism of Captain Oates, who sacrifices himself so as not to be a burden on his comrades, famously stating: ”I am just going outside, and may be some time.”
These points of moral and emotional crisis are then translated into the lives of Cornelius’s contemporary characters: so the navigator Bowers is a woman who panics because she is constantly disoriented; and the old soldier Oates is traumatised by the suicide of his Vietnam veteran son.
Do Not Go Gentle benefits from an extraordinary cast, with superb performances from the likes of Terry Norris, Pamela Rabe, and Malcolm Robertson. Anne Phelan is an absolute delight, in a bitter-sweet portrait of a woman losing her inhibitions as well as her memory. Rhys McConnochie is yet to settle fully into the central role of Scott, causing some scenes to lack focus and rhythm; though his final lines are beautifully acted.
Director Julian Meyrick makes great spatial use of the wonderful expanse of 45 Downstairs, here given an ominous Damoclean setting by Marg Horwell’s stunning design of a collapsing roof. Irine Vela’s evocative soundscape completes a truly captivating production.