Do Not Go Gentle…

Do Not Go Gentle…
By Patricia Cornelius. Director: Julian Meyrick. Produced and Presented by fortyfivedownstairs (Vic.)

Do Not Go Gentle... is a delicately wrought and simply staged work that, all at once, evolves and develops as it peels and unravels. It addresses the often overlooked depth of personality and richness of experience embodied by the aged. The text’s blurring realities, of dreams, experience, desires and heartaches, are managed skilfully by a masterful creative crew, through an amalgam of realism and magic realism.
It is staged across the length of the fortyfivedownstairs - downstairs space where part of the ceiling is disintegrating and falling and covered with a patina of mould. This appears to be so real it could be a serendipitous metaphor. Marg Horwell’s design is for the most part functional, with beautiful touches such as upright sleeping bags that are somehow rendered into granite statues when occupied. Her work is generally unobtrusively supported with lighting by Richard Vabre. The sound scape by Irine Vela enhances atmosphere and adds extraordinary touches at times. The direction by Julian Meyrick appears to be highly respectful, supportive and therefore empowering of the actors, from whom he elicits very rich work.
The title Do Not Go Gentle... is taken from the Dylan Thomas poem that rails against the acceptance of death. The protagonists are feisty individuals of varied life experience. They express a mix of broken dreams and dreams that will not fade or die, desires satiated, rewarded and/or thwarted, disappointments, joys and the heavy losses and heartaches that accumulate through ‘having lived’. By their portrayal we are reminded that there is vitality and complexity in aging.
The team of seasoned actors contribute their own particular styles to play highly individualistic, extremely well fleshed out characters. Anne Phelan plays a jaunty warm and supportive ‘glass half full’ type of person in a ‘glass half full’ type of way. Her character is irrepressible and her work is courageous, truly entertaining and very moving. Pamela Rabe’s character, a younger woman with dementia, is presented with bold bravado. Jan Friedl embodies Maria, a disengaged and disenfranchised woman who lives on the peripheries and wistfully sings haunting operatic arias that speak of loss and longing and evoke sublime yearning.
Paul English plays a soldier who is also the strange, distorted semi-human lurking creature his father, Oates, played by Malcolm Robertson, experiences as a kind of haunting. Here the use of heightened magic realism serves to endorse the strange way emotion can be experienced through personal images of the supernatural.
This production is not for a passive audience. One is required to work to disentangle the supposedly real from the fictional and make sense of the fantastical. Do Not Go Gentle... rewards with insights and understandings, some acutely moving moments of revelation and various delightful surprises. I gasped, laughed and tears came to my eyes several times. It is redemptive, funny, awful and heartrending.
Suzanne Sandow

Photo: Jeff Busby

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