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May 6, 2018


Victorian Premier’s Literary Award Drama 2011

by N@ncy

  • Playwright: Patricia Cornelius  (1953)
  • Title: Do No Go Gentle (act 1, 11 scenes – act 2, 13 scenes)
  • Published: 2011
  • Trivia: Winner Victorian Premier’s Award Drama 2011


Who is Patricia Cornelius?

  1. Patricia Cornelius is one of Australia’s
  2. most awarded and celebrated playwrights.
  3. It was difficult finding more about this woman!
  4. But here is a  quote from The Guardian
  5. that sums it up:
  6. “Cornelius writes plays that buck gentrified theatre trends.
  7. She is not fixated on romantic comedy or
  8. low-stakes middle-class angst about relationships
  9. …instead pursuing stories and characters needing a champion.
  10. She speaks out when few others would.


What is the play about?

  1. Cornelius uses an historical narrative Scott’s Polar Expedition (Act 1)
  2. and a group of Australian retirees in a nursing home (Act 2).
  3. Do Not Go Gentle is described by Cornelius as a survival story.
  4. Five explorers...watching the light fade as they realize ..the end in near.
  5. Five  80 year old elderly people
  6. nearing the end of the journey that is their lives.



  1. Cornelius uses the story of Scott’s expedition
  2. as a metaphor in act 1
  3. ….for living courageously in old age in act 2.
  4. The playwright interweaves parts of the poem
  5. …and Scott’s original diaries into the play.
  6. Rage , rage against the dying of the light
  7. repeated by the character Evans (act 1).
  8. He represents the ‘wild man’ in Thomas’s poem.


Stage design:

Act 1

  1. Scott’s polar party: five men:
  2. Scott, Wilson, Oates, Bowers and Edgar Evans.
  3. Ice sheets of Antarctica with the actors bundled in
  4. …mittens, reindeer boots, fur hats
  5. …in sleeping bags.

Act 2

  1. Group of retirees in a nursing home
  2. ...some in their late 50’s others in their late 80’s.
  3. Labyrinth of crevasses and ice towers are
  4. represented by white curtains around sick beds
  5. …while some actors sit swaddled in sheets shivering in the cold
  6. …in sleeping bags  (beds in nursing home)
  7. Note: white drapes, resembling all at once bedclothes,
  8. icy crevices, and the Terra Nova sails.
  9. Incredibly clever….P. Cornelius!


Who are the characters?    ….to keep track of who’s who!

  1. Act 1:
  2. Scott’s polar expedition party 1911-1912
  3. Five men , Scott, Wilson, Oates, Bowers and Edgar Evans.
  4. Scott (archetype hero) Scott was celebrated
  5. as a national hero, British ambition, courage and fortitude.
  6. Captain Oates (archetype victim) remains to this day
  7. the model of the secular martyr,
  8. ..sacrificing himself for the sake of his colleagues.
  9. Act 2:
  10. Characters:  multiple characters zigzag us through to the conclusion.
  11. (80’s ) Maria (dementia)
  12. (80’s ) Scott
  13. (80’s ) Wilson, Mary (married to Scot)…has her senior moments!
  14. (80’s ) Wilson Scot (married to Mary)
  15. (80’s ) Evans, Taffy
  16. (80’s ) Oates, Titus
  17. (50’s ) Bowers, Claudia (married to Alex) (dementia)
  18. (50’s ) Bowers, Alex,  (married to Claudia)
  19.  Creature ( = Peter howling like an animal…)
  20.  I didn’t understand this at all until…later  it is replaced by
  21. Peter (vision of shell-shocked Vietnam vet   (son to Oates)


Strong point:  juxtaposition

  1. Cornelius places these characters and their actions
  2.   in both acts side by side to
  3. ….develop comparisons and contrasts.
  4. Example:
  5. Scene act 1 scene 1
  6. ...members of polar party
  7. complain about the cold, can’t sleep,
  8. the place gives them the horrors
  9. while “leader of expedition Scott” gives them a pep talk.
  10. Compare with…
  11. Scene act 2 scene 2
  12. ...each retiree (in their 80’s and late 50’s)
  13. complains of their aches, pains,
  14. operations, loss of blood, prostrate etc.
  15. while “leader of expedition  Scott” gives them a pep talk.



  1. Characters are on a  journey.
  2. They play out the action in search of a quest.
  3. The restless nature of these older people reveal
  4. that they are trying to escape
  5. …the present or the inevitable. (death)
  6. The dedicated men of science in the expedition.
  7. They are trying do the impossible
  8. …be the first to reach the South Pole
  9. …and face perhaps failure …and death.


What did I learn by reading this play?

  1. Suspension of disbelief is en essential element in a play!
  2. I had just read a play filled with gritty realism The Drover’s Wife.
  3. When I read the stage directions to Do Not Go Gentle …I was confused.
  4. Maria in  elegant long white gown in bare feet standing on the ice
  5. …singing an aria from Verdi’s Nabucco  Va, Pensiero.
  6. What the fugg does this mean? …using my YA lingo 🙂
  7. But I  had to ignore the reality that was described in the stage directions
  8. and temporarily accept it as
  9. …theatrical reality in order to be entertained.
  10. Strong point:
  11. I was entertained and  AMAZED how  Patricia Cornelius
  12. incorporated these songs into her play
  13. …to emphasize the sufferings of
  14. Maria in her rapidly shrinking world of reality. (dementia)


Act 1  scene 1

  1. Maria  dresses in elegant full-length white gown standing
  2. …in her bare feet on the ice. (white tile floor of hospital)
  3. Va, Pensiero  (G. Verdi, from Nabucco)
  4. This is a great lament for a lost homeland.
  5. Maria  probably suffers from  dementia
  6. yearns for lost memories.

Act 2 scene 1

  1. Maria in elegant dress (hospital gown) (suffers dementia)
  2. …her bare feet on the ice (white tile floor of hospital)
  3. Solveig’s Song  (E. Grieg, from Peer Gynt)
  4. Solveig sings of the  hope and the promise
  5. …that we will still be loved no matter
  6. …how dire circumstances may become.

Act 2 scene 12

  1. Maria  wandering alone on the ice  (white tile floor of hospital)
  2. …(suffers dementia)
  3. She sings:
  4. Teneste la Promessa (G. Verdi, from La Traviata)
  5. Violette sings ‘take care’, shakes her head  ‘too late’
  6. knowing she has a few more pages to sing
  7. …before she dies.



  1. Reading a play is just like solving a puzzle.
  2. I start sorting out the title   Do Not Go Gentle.
  3. There must be something in the poem that will opo up im the play! Thomas’
  4. Before reading I listened to Thomas reading his poem…magnificent!
  5. Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night  (listen to the audio)
  6. Next I investigate the
  7. …characters, setting(s) and the structure (acts and scenes)
  8. Timeline between acts….giant leaps?
  9. …or close chronological timing?
  10. What is the point of view:
  11. one person or multiple narrators competing
  12. …with each other to tell the story.
  13. Then I skim through the play on Kindle and
  14. highlight just the stage directions.
  15. Entrances/exits …through door(s) or from a certain direction?
  16. What does the ‘off-stage’ area represent?
  17. After all that….I finally start reading!
  18. If you like puzzle….read a play!
  19. Patricia Cornelius  does NOT  disappoint!
  20. This is a heart-warming, thought-provoking, and
  21. hilarious, with conflicting elements.
  22. The result in a very fine play…worthy of
  23. Victorian Premier’s Literary Award Drama 2011 !!
  24. #MustRead


Quickscan:  Historical narrative  Scott’s Expedition

  1. Scott’s polar party: five men , Scott, Wilson, Oates, Bowers and Edgar Evans.
  2. They have reached the South Pole only to discover they have been beaten to it.
  3. The Norwegian Roald Admundsen had got there three weeks earlier
  4. – on December 14, 1911.
  5. Instead of being first the British party found a little tent
  6. topped by a Norwegian flag.
  7. Scott planted a Union Jack and, as he records in his journal:
  8. “Well, we have turned back now on the goal of our ambition
  9. …and must face our 800 miles of solid dragging
  10. – and goodbye to most of the daydreams.
  11. ”Then they embarked on their final nightmare.


3 Comments Post a comment
  1. Jan 10 2019

    Was it only written as a play?


    • Jan 10 2019

      Scott’s ill-fated Antarctic expedition is a metaphor for the elusive journey of five elderly people facing the final leg of their journey. Yes, it is only a play in which Cornelius used some historical fact. Thanks for you interest….!



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