There are few topics more challenging than death, and the inevitable journey toward this state of non-being. The journey, one might say, is fraught with difficulty as we see our loved ones deteriorate, diminish, dement and lose their way; something we all fear; after all, what will happen to us come the evolution?
Patricia Cornelius, award-winning Australian playwright and woman with her finger on every pulse, has created a vehicle to drive this delicate subject, with the assistance of a brilliant cast and crew ‘on board’, home. And where is home? This timely play, with it’s emotive (and strangely cathartic) narrative, questions one’s very being – every nuance and breath illuminating. Cornelius says, “The main thing for a play is that it must provoke. I like things to aggravate. I love it when I go to the theatre and see an idea expressed that contests everything I believe, when there is potential for an alteration in my thinking.” Well, Patricia, you certainly altered my perception – allaying my fears of the inevitable; even offering me succour when visiting my own mother in the retirement home. Embrace the day, go forward and live your life – after all – what else can one do?
Do Not Go Gentle, with title borrowed from Welsh poet, Dylan Thomas, resonated with the full-house plus audience at The Drill Hall Theatre, pushing every emotional button, skilfully orchestrated by Director, Ray Thomas (it appears that Thomas is a very creative Welsh name) with the cast of ‘amateur’ actors (nothing amateur about this troupe) nailing us to our seats. Wow. I might add, at this point, that this is a collaborative effort between two amateur theatre companies, The Drill Hall Theatre (Mullumbimby) and Everyman Theatre Company (Cardiff, Wales), performing six shows in each country, and funded, not by grants, but by ‘bums on seats’ and the love of theatre; no mean feat! Director Ray Thomas admits, “...no project in my 55-year involvement in theatre and drama has presented more complex challenges than this one. Two casts 10,600 miles apart; a set that is not definable (even characters inhabiting it), and states of mind impossible to penetrate.”
We went from fears to tears to laughing to pondering our own tentative life, and all the way back again. Many of the actors (all awesome beyond my comprehension) are of an age where their experience in life enabled them to inhabit their characters, making for superb theatre. Cornelius’ genius juxtaposes Robert Falcon Scott’s “long and ultimately fatal trek” to reach the South Pole in 1912, with the reality of the ageing process; her Gentle heroes are “elderly characters who inhabit the polar explorers expedition, even taking their names”. Scott, Bowers, Wilson, Oates and Evans “grapple with life’s big questions, pitting their wits against the ‘dying of the light’ as they trudge across an ‘alien landscape’... questions emerge ... about the nature of their ‘fragile world’ and who they really are.”
Maria (Susan Gallagher) with beautiful haunting voice, sings “Lift your voice, let the story be told…” and what a story unfolds. Scott (Geraint Dixon) narrating their lives; the ‘explorers’ joining Scott in more ways than one, each character unfolding, mingling, intertwining: they all have their crosses to bear and their scars to hide/reveal. Their journey is not an easy one; fragments of their past lives unfold, like jewels sparkling in the ice. They cling to each other and fall apart, separately, but somehow together. Thought provoking dialogue, beautifully rendered by these actors, have us in the palm of their hands. Moist eyeballs all round, but strangely rewarding going through the process with them! As Scott says, “A glistening world without edges… it’s what keeps us alive…” Memories (jogging my own memories) are caught up with Maria, “The trucks have gone and they have taken my family…there has been a mistake, this is not my country.” Evans (Peter Harding-Roberts) bleating, “What are we, oxen?… our tongues are in our heads, lying idle… fools are what we are… we’re bags of rattling bones!” Wilson (Rosy Greenwood) a sparkling ‘affable’ character, always positive (well, there are moments) “Let’s talk about ourselves, what we wanted out of life…”
Individuality, everyone with their own story, wafting in and wafting out, their foibles and fears, trapping and tripping them up, whilst Scott invents his own story in order to survive. Interplay between the cast is tight: age-old ailments with a twist, so clever, almost Pythonesque, comparing aches and pains, lumps and glitches. Oats (Owen Trevor-Jones) bringing the house down with lost dreams of father and son talks, “...never got into the swing of talking, I wish I could have learned…” and the momentum building, helter-skelter, making us grip our seats even tighter. Max Donati (Creature/Peter) hauntingly triggers unbridled emotions and Bowers (Cate Feldmann) showing that even the most intelligent feminist/journalistic career-oriented person can still fall down the rabbit-hole, forgetting love-of-family, constantly check-listing. A wake-up call indeed. Arnold Phillips (Alex) and Greg Aitken (Scot) providing impetus for more heart-wrenching scenes.
Q & A time, post show, and an elderly audience member admits: “... this performance perpetually pressed buttons… it brought out all these emotions, and I, for one, call this successful drama…”
You won’t get any argument from me on that score.
“Do not go gentle into that good night, Old age should burn and rave at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light...” Dylan Thomas.
Drill Hall Theatre & Everyman Theatre Company presents
Do Not Go Gentle
by Patricia Cornelius
Director Ray Thomas
Venue: Drill Hall | 2 Jubilee Avenue, Mullumbimby
Dates: 13-10-2017 – 22-10-2017
Tickets: $25 – $22