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Review: Do not go gentle… on ArtsHub

This review of Do not go gentle… was written by Paul Knox for ArtsHub.  See it in it’s original context here.

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rage at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

The inspiration for Do Not Go Gentle is Dylan Thomas’ well known poem about the fierce and desperate longing for life that accompanies our last days. Patricia Cornelius has written an examination of the twilight years of five nursing home residents and unexpectedly woven it through the story of Robert Falcon Scott’s ill-fated Antarctic expedition with surprising success.

The result is a moving piece that draws us into the fractured mind of Scott (Rhys McConnochie), a nursing home resident obsessed with the 1912 expedition to the point of recasting those around him into the roles of R. F. Scott’s party. Each is given the opportunity through this conceit to gradually reveal their afflictions, ranging from deep regret, dislocation and uselessness to a tragic loss of memory from Bowers (Pamela Rabe), a younger woman suffering what seems to be a premature form of dementia.

The production drifts through a collection of scenes that tug at our emotions – sometimes softly, sometimes with less subtlety – and offer surprising moments of comedy. Anne Phelan’s Wilson delights as she gradually strips away a lifetime of inhibitions to discover an innocent glee in sexuality she never found in youth.

Cornelius includes small excerpts from Scott’s own diary to provide a parallel to the residents’ own cold march into their last days and, as with the real Terra Nova Expedition, Scott is the last to perish. Julian Meyrick has assembled a talented cast of (mostly) senior actors that represent some of the best seen on Melbourne stages. The talent on show here is evident from minute one and what minor misgivings one might have about the script are overwhelmed by their outstanding commitment to performance. The setting is beautifully understated, a section of the fortyfivedownstairs roof sags gradually to the floor, decaying as it descends, simply and powerfully evoking a sense of sad ending, death in isolation and disuse.

Scott’s final diary entry concluded “…We took risks, we knew we took them; things have come out against us, and therefore we have no cause for complaint, but bow to the will of Providence, determined still to do our best to the last”. The match between this and Thomas’ poem isn’t an easy one, but McConnochie’s Scott draws the dual sentiments together beautifully. Do Not Go Gentle is one not to be missed.

Do Not Go Gentle

by Patricia Cornelius

fortyfivedownstairs, 45 Flinders Lane, Melbourne

Until August 29

Bookings Phone: 03 9662 9966

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