In 2006 Melbourne playwright Patricia Cornelius won the Patrick White Playwrights’ Award and the RE Ross Trust Playwrights award for Do not go gentle… Finally, we get to see a production (thank you fortyfivedownstairs) and the full theatre, longish run and sold out nights are proving that award-winning plays aren’t real until they are produced and shared with an audience.
Cornelius uses the metaphor of Scott’s Antarctic expedition (yep, the one that didn’t end well) to tell the story of six people dealing with the consequences of aging. They trudge through the frozen world and are in a “home”. Some fight their pasts and disappointments at not having fulfilled a single dream, others find happiness and total acceptance, and some struggle with their own brains and memories that won’t let them understand.
Told with delicious humour, Do not go gentle… takes the rage that Dylan Thomas speaks of in his famous poem and makes it palpable. The experienced cast (Paul English, Jan Friedl, Rhys McConnochie, Terry Norris, Anne Phelan, Pamela Rabe and Malcolm Robertson) prove the value of experience and bring a personal element to their characters. Rabe is especially powerful as a woman facing early onset Alzheimer’s and Phelan wins every heart as she loses her inhibitions and finally feels loved.
Marg Horwell’s design, Irine Vela’s sound and Richard Vabre’s lighting use the vastness of fortyfivedownstairs beautifully, letting the emptiness and the collapsed roof infuse the world with unspoken emotion and gave the script room to fill in the spaces with humour or poignancy. And, under Julian Meyrick’s clear direction, this is the production that Cornelius must have dreamt about.
But for all it’s goodness, I was left as cold as Scott’s team – and I so wanted to warm to it. Cornelius language brings stunning images to the stage, but I felt that the metaphors were overused and that issues were leading the story rather than the characters. With so much time spent telling us about each character’s old-age problem, there was little space to start loving the person. Instead of dispelling myths about age, they almost confirmed the stereotypes they were trying to liberate from assumptions.
But this show is enthralling and talking to its audience, who will happily rage, rage against any dissenting opinions.