Australian stage classic brings snow to Sydney

On a frozen plateau somewhere near the South Pole, Robert Scott and his band of explorers trudge towards their deaths.

It’s a difficult scenario to recreate in sunny Sydney, where the Sydney Theatre Company production Do Not Go Gentle makes its mainstage debut on Saturday, complete with icy blizzards and edible snow.

“We knew we wanted something that felt uninhabitable and bleak,” director Paige Rattray told AAP.

“We started with a black model box with a bunch of different materials, including a bit of coconut, to play with the model and see what different formations would look like.”

The final result is a stage framed by mountainous peaks, capped with potato-starch snow, with theatrical haze and lighting adding to the sub-zero atmosphere.

The atmosphere is cold enough to trick audience members into donning their coats.

“Well, we did discuss just dropping the aircon,” Ms Rattray joked. “But without giving too much away, we’re not really on Scott’s journey into the Antarctic.”

The show transports audiences to the farthest parts of the earth for a reason: to uncover our own responses to death and life, love and isolation.

Inspired by the famed Dylan Thomas poem, Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night, Cornelius uses the ill-fated journey of Robert Scott’s Terra Nova expedition to encourage audiences to ‘rage against the dying of the light’, forming meaning in both life and death.

The cast delve into the isolation that can come with ageing, an experience fresh in the memory of many due to the COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing lockdowns.

“We bring the wealth of our experiences, losing parents, facing our own mortality, seeing our friends disappearing at a rate of knots. I’ve found this both confronting and life affirming,” Phillip Quast, who leads the expedition in the role of Robert Scott, said.

“There’s not a single person that could come to this theatre and not have some experience of what the subject matter is.

“It’s challenging the notion of whether or not you keep finding that exploration and discovery in ageing, and the journey towards dying as something interesting.

“It’s a deeply personal experience.”

This exploration is found in Vanessa Downing’s portrayal of Edward Wilson, who is challenged by a fellow explorer to ‘fit more’ into their one precious life.

“It’s humanity on stage in a way like no play I’ve ever been in… a beautiful metaphor for the journey of life,” Ms Downing said.

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