By Patricia CorneliusDramafortyfivedownstairs

Do not go gentle…

Do not go gentle… juxtaposes the story of Robert Scott’s fatal journey to the South Pole with the lives of six vibrant and opinionated older Australians, inhabitants of a nursing home. Scott’s story serves as a metaphor for living courageously in old age: while he battles the treacherous Antarctic terrain that eventually proves fatal, the characters face the more prosaic challenges of constipation, arthritis and the approach of death.

The title, of course, is taken from Dylan Thomas’s iconic poem, and as Thomas urges, the protagonists, all inhabitants of a nursing home, are in a “rage against the dying of the light”; they are funny, angry and defiant.

Patricia Cornelius explores existential questions of love, death, loss and happiness, in a play that is ultimately a celebration of life. It is both inventive and poetic - the imagery of Scott’s men heading inexorably into the snow poignantly chimes with the notion of the residents’ inevitable slide into oblivion. At the same time, it is starkly honest and unsentimental, resulting in a nuanced and affecting look at ageing.

Portrait of Patricia Cornelius

Patricia Cornelius

Patricia Cornelius is a playwright, novelist and dramaturg and a founding member of Melbourne Workers’ Theatre. Her plays have been widely performed and include Boy Overboard, Who’s Afraid of the Working Class?, Love, Hogs Hairs and Leeches and many others. Patricia is a recipient of a fellowship from the Theatre Board of the Australia Council, and the winner of 2006 Ross Trust and Patrick White Playwrights’ Awards for Do not go gentle…. Her work has also received AWGIEs (1999, 2000 & 2006), Green Room, Queensland Premier and Jill Blewitt Awards (1999), and the Wal Cherry Award (2004).

Judges’ report

The spectre of light fading – literally and figuratively – is palpable in Patricia Cornelius’ Do not go gentle… Her juxtaposition of Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s ill-fated 1910 Antarctic polar mission and lives winding down in a modern nursing home is a seamless contrivance that enhances both the historical portrait and the poignant examination of ageing. The play explores life’s difficult choices – going to war, euthanasia, placing loved ones in care – without judgement, while powerfully reflecting on the repercussions of those decisions. The best scenes are profoundly moving studies of regret and redemption and the breathtaking brevity of life.


Patricia Cornelius has created an involving drama that tackles many of the difficult challenges that we don’t want to look at, let alone encounter. These issues are seen through the prism of old age , both actual and approaching.

The play is set against the background of the failed expedition led by Captain Scott to be first to reach the South Pole, only to find that his team has been beaten by the Norwegians. The playwright also uses the real names and imagined characters of four of his fellow expeditioneers. We are encouraged to use our imaginations as long-held anxieties are brought to the surface by isolation and psychological conditions that are both savagely real and tragically illusory.

All the characters confront their ‘monsters’, with the playwright presenting nuanced portraits of courage, inertia, risk-taking and excruciating regret. Lifelong convictions and commitments or just blind ways of living are leavened with ironic humour and whimsical energy.

I think the playwright asks many questions, with perhaps the ultimate question being, can revealed vulnerability be left so late that it has no value - especially when it’s in the context of the dementia and anguish of the old peoples’ home?

The Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards shortlist