Play tells of doctor's shooting

My Heart is Bathed in Blood opens next week

GWYNETH HYNDMAN
Last updated 09:16 02/11/2012
Natasha Boon
NICOLE GOURLEY/Fairfax NZ
Final year dramatic arts graduate student Natasha Boon as Dr Senga Whittingham takes aim at first year dramatic arts student Joshua Harris as Dr Bill Saunders for the SIT production “My Heart is Bathed in Blood”.

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A play about the killing of a Dunedin Hospital doctor by a house surgeon from Riverton will open at the SIT Centrestage Theatre next week.

My Heart is Bathed in Blood - written by Michelanne Forster in 2006 - is based on the 1954 murder trial of Riverton woman Dr Senga Whittingham, then 27, who was a house surgeon at Dunedin Hospital.

SIT school of dramatic arts director Fiona Forrest said she chose the play about Dr Whittingham shooting her lover, Dr Bill Saunders, also 27, in December 1953, because it had so much relevance to Southland and because of her own background as a nurse at Dunedin Hospital.

She understood how such an incident would have happened, with relationships between doctors living and working close together being common, she said.

Dr Whittingham's engagement to Dr Saunders ended months before the incident, following a miscarriage. One evening at a party for the hospital doctors she followed him to a bathroom in the house surgeons' quarters of the hospital, where he was later found dead from a gunshot wound.

During the trial, Dr Whittingham said it had only been her intention to scare Dr Saunders and the gun had gone off accidentally.

She was sentenced to three years' jail and later left New Zealand for Australia.

Forrest said she discovered the play earlier in the year on a trip to Wellington and thought it would work well as a graduate production for the SIT School of Dramatic Arts.

Both Natasha Boon, who plays Dr Whittingham,  and Joshua Harris, who plays Dr Saunders, come from nursing families and have spent time walking the corridors of Dunedin and Southland hospitals, which they found useful while envisioning the world their characters were living in.

''Senga was a very driven woman; she came from Riverton and she created a life for herself that she held onto very tightly,'' Boon said. ''I certainly feel for her.''

Harris described his character as a hot shot doctor who was under a lot of stress. 

''I think he liked the thrill of the chase and he saw her as brilliant. But I don't think he was as cold and callous as some people thought, he just had a lot on his shoulders.''

My Heart is Bathed in Blood is at SIT Centrestage on Tuesday, November 6 and Wednesday November 7 at 7.30pm both nights. Admission is free.

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- The Southland Times

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