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Review: Do Not Go Gentle at Sydney Theatre Company

Review by Kate Gaul

“Do Not Go Gentle” is Patricia Cornelius’ revelatory, brilliant, robust, and spine-tingling examination of seven characters facing death. Winning numerous awards since it was written in 2006 it has (famously) only had one indie production directed by Julian Meryrick at venue fortyfivedownstairs in Melbourne in 2010. Now STC does Patricia Cornelius and the play justice in a glorious production at the Ros Packer theatre.

“(This) is not a drama about aging. Or not only a drama about aging. It is a meditation on time, loss, and love, on what it is to reach a point when a judgement on one’s life is both unavoidable and beside the point. How to speak this truth? The truth of the ultimate worth of human life on the verge of certain demise?” Julian Meryrick

The characters - who reside in a nursing home - tell the parallel story of Scott of the Antarctic's doomed expedition to the south pole. A race lost to Norwegian Amundsen and ultimately cost them their lives. Again, from scholar and director Julian Meryrick “Patricia’s play is not about old people in a naturalistic sense. It places an uncompromising metaphor on stage – that of a long, ultimately fatal trek to the South Pole – as means of exposing, exploring, and expanding our experience of the aging process.”

Paige Rattray (director) assembles a brilliant cast for what can only be called a masterpiece of a play. Phillip Quast (who was brilliant in STC’s “Waiting for Godot”) thrills again from his poetic opening lines and heads a spectacular cast. He does the heavy lifting as Scott is a genuine life force. Vanessa Downing plays Wilson – a woman suffering from premature memory loss and who doesn’t recognise her husband. Quast and Downing together provide tender humour in this unflinchingly unsentimental portrait of seniors sex. John Gaden as stoic ex-soldier Oates and Peter Carroll as pamphleteering Evans are of course theatre royalty both bring grace and gravitas to these angry, defiant, human men. Bridgid Zengeni is disarming as the disorientated navigator Bowers. Marylin Richardson illuminates as Maria – a woman caught between worlds and, as an artist of advanced age herself, brings a frightening fragility to the play’s realities. Josh McConnville – always brilliant – breaks our hearts in a brief scene as a Vietnam Vet who didn’t make it home and a really strange and scary man-beast. The man-beast could be many things and McConville just goes for it.

Paul Jackson (Lighting Designer), Charles Davis (Designer), James Brown (Composer and Sound Designer) work harmoniously to provide a chilly Antarctic setting for this production. As with all great art this play suggests many scenarios for creative teams as it delves into ideas, emotions and experiences that are difficult to put into words. Ultimately the characters and play claw at life with tremendous force. Not to be missed!

Image Supplied


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