Venue: Roslyn Packer Theatre (Sydney NSW), May 23 – Jun 17, 2023
Playwright: Patricia Cornelius
Director: Paige Rattray
Cast: Peter Carroll, Vanessa Downing, John Gaden, Josh McConville, Philip Quast, Marilyn Richardson, Brigid Zengeni
Images by Prudence Upton
The Terra Nova Expedition, led by Robert Falcon Scott, departed from Cardiff, Wales, on June 15, 1910. That historic attempt to be the first to reach the South Pole may have been beaten by Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen, but Scott’s team left behind an indelible legacy, along with a towering beacon of inspiration, as can be evidenced in Patricia Cornelius’ sublime Do Not Go Gentle.
We encounter characters in Cornelius’ play when on their last legs of that fateful journey. The five young men from over a century ago, are transformed into elderly people approaching the very final chapter of life. The work delves into the subject of death, the only real certainty, yet routinely omitted from virtually all our interactions and discussions in Western contexts.
Do Not Go Gentle boldly explores some of our biggest fears, in order that we may reach the greatest truths, as is the purpose of our noblest artistic pursuits. There is so much that is meaningful and profound, in the most transcendent ways in Cornelius’ writing, and although director Paige Rattray admirably manufactures sensational spectacles for the blizzard filled production, it is invariably the intimate conversations that matter most.
In the vast auditorium however, we can often feel too distant from those deeply introspective reflections. The cast is commendable for always being mindful of bringing amplification to these pearls of wisdom, so that we may hopefully go away with substantial portions of this wondrous text resonating in our heads. Playing the adventurers are Peter Carroll, Vanessa Downing, John Gaden, Philip Quast and Brigid Zengeni, who all bring excellent gravity and believability, to the fantastical philosophies of Do Not Go Gentle. Also captivating are Josh McConville and Marilyn Richardson, who play surprising support parts, adding valuable variation to the textures of this lyrical work.
Set and costumes by Charles Davis are exquisitely designed to deliver both a sense of realism, along with the flamboyant theatricality expected of a lavish production. Paul Jackson’s lights are emotive and dramatic, effective at steering both our attention and our sentiments throughout the duration. Sound design by James Brown too is a powerful element, that helps connect us to a soulful beauty that regulates all the tumult encountered by Scott and his team.
Death is always close by, it is in fact omnipresent. In our colonised lives, not only do we have to act as though individuals are immortal, we are made to ignore the eternalness of our cosmos. Death then becomes a pervasive, persistent and insidious fear, one that completely upends our priorities, so that all our energies are expended on things that prove ultimately to be delusive and self-destructive. When we live as though we can cheat death, we are pretending that we are greater than the universe itself. The truth is in plain sight, but there is an arrogance that often prevents human submission to a greater order, and the price we pay for that hubris, grows bigger every moment.