Do Not Go Gentle

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Fortyfivedownstairs’ latest production, Do Not Go Gentle, has been receiving rave reviews and it’s not difficult to see why. Pesel & Carr went along to opening night and was incredibly impressed.

The title comes from Dylan Thomas’s famous poem Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night … an ode to living life to the full right through to old age. ”Rage, rage against the dying of the light” is what the poem urges us to do whilst ‘old age should burn and rave at close of day’. Patricia Cornelius’s award winning play tells the tale of a diverse group of characters in a nursing home, dealing with the trials and tribulations of old age, impending death, failing health, memories of their triumphs, their successes and their many demons and disappointments.

The central character of Scott has a preoccupation with the tragic heroism of Robert Scott’s ill-fated expedition to the South Pole, which saw Scott and his team ultimately lose out to a group of Norwegian explorers before losing their lives to the bitter elements. Thus, the plot weaves ingeniously into the tale of that snowy mission, drawing parallels between the explorer’s journey and the pathway through old age. Scott’s story in effect becomes a metaphor for the long and sometimes futile journey of life that inevitably ends in the defeat of death.

It’s an entirely honest and totally unsentimental piece. Sometimes hilariously funny and sometimes incredibly poignant, just like life itself.

The cast does a fantastic job. Jan Friedl opens with a haunting operatic piece sung in her dressing gown, before going on to portray a lost and confused lady who can’t understand why her family have left her here. Anne Phelan lights up the stage with her portrayal of an eternally optimist geriatric trying to remain happy and upbeat even as old age creeps in. She has a wonderful sense of mischievousness as she loses her inhibitions in an attempt to reclaim her lost youth and make up for some of the missed opportunities in her life.

Terry Norris and Malcolm Robertson are equally fantastic and Rhys McConnochie holds the whole piece together wonderfully in the central role of Scott. Meanwhile, Pamela Rabe puts in a moving and somewhat tragic performance as a younger woman who is suffering from the premature onset of Alzheimer’s bringing to light a very real health issue that thousands of families across Australia live with everyday.

The great, expansive theatre space at fortyfivedownstairs lends itself incredibly well to the drab reality of an old people’s home, decrepit old age and the desolate wastelands of the Antarctic. The faux collapsed roof is particularly impressive.

Ultimately, the play is a celebration of life, warts and all, told through likeable, sometimes funny, sometimes angry, often strong and always defiant characters. It’s a treat and well worth watching.

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