Authentic drama of two ill-fated Kiwis

16:00, Feb 21 2013
A Cry too Far from Heaven
FASCINATING THEATRE: A Cry Too Far From Heaven features the last Kiwi deserter executed in World War I and the notorious murderer Minnie Dean.


A Cry Too Far From Heaven by Angela Newell, Jade Gillies and Lizzie Dawson and directed by Angela Newell.

Gryphon Theatre until tomorrow, 9.30pm.


Most historical figures brought to life on stage from New Zealand's past are heroes in some way or other.

But not so in Invercargill Invers Theatre's play A Cry Too Far From Heaven where the stories of two locals have been combined into a fascinating piece of theatre production.


It is Minnie Dean (Lizzie Dawson), the well known "Winton Baby Farmer" hanged in 1895 for infanticide (and the only woman in New Zealand to meet such a fate) and Victor Spencer (Jade Gillies), a young Maori soldier from Bluff with the Otago Regiment, who in 1918 was the last New Zealand soldier executed in World War I for being a perpetual deserter.

It is the night before Dean's hanging and Spencer's execution.

From diary entries and original material the writers have pieced together a type of confessional from each, as told to Lewis, (Hamish McGregor) a shady character with a past himself, who alternates between the two acting as both a narrator and sounding board for their stories.

Through talking with Lewis we learn some of the reasons why they did what they did and, especially in the case of Spencer, the emotional trauma they went through.

His is a familiar tale from the war, one of suffering from shell shock, taking to drink falling in love with a local girl, but unable to cope he runs away and pays the ultimate price. The telling of this tale by Gillies is poignant and heartfelt, and conveys with great insight the plight of this young man.

The story of Dean taking the lives of numerous young babies, abandoned by their mothers, believing that it was God's will that "they be taken home" is less heartfelt. Yet Dawson manages to bring humanity to the callousness of the character and leaves wide open the question of whether Dean should be pitied or vilified.

As the roving narrator confessional type figure McGregor is excellent in filling in the gaps, moving the story along and helping to elicit the inner turmoil of the two characters.

Although both infamous they are nevertheless important figures in our history, especially in Southland, and this group must be commended for the highly original and innovative way they have brought their stories to life.