Gryphon Theatre, 22 Ghuznee Street, Wellington

20/02/2013 - 23/02/2013

NZ Fringe Festival 2013

Production Details

She was convicted for infanticide in 1895 and became the only woman ever hanged in New Zealand. He was a young lad from Bluff who was shot for desertion in World War I.  Now Minnie Dean and Victor Spencer share their stories with you—just hours before their planned executions by the state.  Observing their tales is the Executioner—a staunch supporter of the Death Penalty.

Invers Theatre enjoyed a successful season at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival this year. Malcolm Jack’s review in The Scotsman said: “It’s well-written and confidently acted, and proves to be a thought-provoking 50 minutes.” Broadway Baby’s review said: “All three actors deliver spectacular performances conveying the pain and confusion of awaiting execution”.

Both Dean and Spencer were vilified for their crimes—she as a child murderer, he as a deserter. Spencer’s family did not talk about him for decades while Minnie Dean earned her reputation as the “Winton Baby Farmer”. However, in recent times, both have received a degree of redemption.

The play examines capital punishment, posing the question: “If you knew their stories, would you pull the gallows’ lever or the rifle’s trigger?”

The company who are all from Southland feel an affinity towards Spencer and Dean.  “They were two people who lived in our community but who were victims of their own tragic circumstances.” Director Angela Newell says. “The play examines what people might experience the night before their executions but our focus is to avoid placing innocence or guilt on the characters but rather show the humanity of two people caught up in an untenable situation.”

Invers Theatre presents
A Cry Too Far From Heaven
at the Gryphon Theatre, Wellington,
from February 20-23 at 9:30pm  

Authentic drama of two ill-fated Kiwis

Review by Ewen Coleman [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 22nd Feb 2013

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. [More


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Profoundly moving

Review by Michael Wray 22nd 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.


John Smythe February 23rd, 2013

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 http://timespanner.blogspot.co.nz/2009/03/lewis-hangman.html -- 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. 

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