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NZ Fringe Festival 2013
Written by Angela Newell, Jade Gillies and Lizzie Dawson
Performed by Jade Gillies, Lizzie Dawson and Hamish McGregor
Directed by Angela Newell
presented by Invers Theatre Company

at Gryphon, Wellington
From 20 Feb 2013 to 23 Feb 2013

Reviewed by Michael Wray, 22 Feb 2013

Simultaneously set in 1895 and 1918, A Cry Too Far From Heaven presents us with the final day of two New Zealanders sentenced to suffer the death penalty.

Minnie Dean, known as the Winton Baby Farmer, was the only woman in NZ to receive the death penalty. She was hanged for infanticide. Victor Spencer, a volunteer from Invercargill, was shot by firing squad for desertion during the First World War. According to his Wikipedia entry, Spencer was the last soldier to be executed during World War I and was posthumously pardoned some 80 years after his death.

Co-written by two of the three performers (Lizzie Dawson and Jade Gillies) together with director Angela Newell, this is an incredibly moving piece of theatre. Dean (Dawson) and Spencer (Gillies) alternately interact with ex-executioner Lewis (Hamish McGregor).

The three performers are magnificent. Gillies is particularly moving in his portrayal of the traumatised young soldier who has turned to alcohol for comfort, now suffering the DTs. Our current day knowledge of the plight of WWI soldiers engages our sympathies immediately.

Dawson perhaps has the tougher role. Post-show reading doesn't seem to leave much doubt over guilt of Deans, but Dawson provides an authentic performance to show us the rationalisation of her acts. There is sympathy for her conflicted state, regardless of how we feel about the character's fate.

Lewis is a confessor figure, able to inhabit and move between both time-periods and locations. His position is never fully explained but his dark-edged confidence and menace fit perfectly with the tone of the condemned and their attempts at explanation as he provides comfort and torment. 

Overall, this is highly recommended: NZ stories told in profoundly moving way by a NZ company from Invercargill. See if you can leave the theatre without shedding a tear.
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See also reviews by:
 Ewen Coleman [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] (The Dominion Post);


John Smythe posted 23 Feb 2013, 12:22 AM / edited 17 Jan 2014, 01:09 PM

This is significantly more than a documentary about Minnie Dean and Victor Spencer.  Minnie's unerring faith in God and Victor's loss of faith challenges us to consider the role of religion throughout our history. And the ingeniously conceived role of Lewis, the executioner-cum-interlocutor, ensures we revisit the debate around capital punishment.

Actually Lewis the Hangman could well be developed, given the revelations about him on -- that he was a criminal too (a forger). But as it stands his unerring faith in the right of the state to murder people, and in the efficacy of capital punishment as a deterrent, draws a sobering portrait of who we used to be and who some would like us to become again.

This deceptively little play is really much bigger than itself and well worth going to.