Q Theatre, The Vault, Auckland

12/08/2014 - 16/08/2014

Production Details

This 1 hour production tells the story of the ‘Wanganui Incident’ when, in 1920, the Mayor of Wanganui, Charles Mackay shot the so called soldier poet D’Arcy Cresswell who was blackmailing him to resign the mayoralty or he would expose him as a homosexual. 

The play charts the meeting and the repercussions that followed, up to the death of both men. 

“An outstanding performance” – ConcertFM 

“A theatrical gem” – Wanganui Chronicle 

The Vault @ Q Theatre, 305 Queen Str, Auckland
12th to 16th August @ 7.30pm
$20 per person
Bookings @ Q Theatre box office – 09 3099771

Actor - David Charteris
Technician - Rhys Owen
Graphics - Emma Love


Cerebral analysis of a failed celebrity

Review by Nik Smythe 13th Aug 2014

Located in the bowels of the Q complex, the humble Q Vault seems an apt venue for playwright / solo actor David Charteris to invoke the real-life, openly gay and proudly obnoxious character of Kiwi poet and journalist (Walter) D’Arcy Cresswell.

The simple set – black curtain backdrop, two bentwood chairs and a small round table with a few essential props (particularly his carafe of treasured booze) – provides an equally apt sense of purgatory, as do the conservatively flamboyant patchwork vest and bright ascot adorning the stout actor’s otherwise plain black-and-white shirt and pants.

According to Charteris’s account, what Cresswell desired more than anything was Fame by any means, heroic or notorious.  He certainly achieved more success with the latter, as the blackmailer behind the notorious ‘Wanganui Incident’ of 1920 resulting in his being shot by reigning mayor Charles Mackay, yet his driving ambition to be an enduring household name ultimately eluded him.

I myself confess to not having heard of Cresswell or his story before attending this production.  This feels somewhat like a disadvantage, being as it is more a philosophical analysis of a failed would-be celebrity than a straight historical narrative. However, with some effort I think I manage to follow the thread, even as it frequently jumps back and forth in time around the first half of the 20th century.

Originally commissioned for the 2002 Whanganui Arts Festival, precisely what inspired Charteris to the task isn’t entirely apparent.  Evidently it’s more to do with examining personal demons and their societal implications than with the events themselves.  Whatever his purpose, he clearly holds an abiding affection for the subject, given his cerebral, mystically charged script and assiduous portrayal. 

Beginning at his 1960 funeral, Cresswell observes his fewer-than-expected turnout of local ‘literary luvvies’ with supposedly trademark bitchiness, before venturing into life-story flashback.  He makes no bones that, for all his zest for life and international experiences, he was not a happy man – particularly disgusted with either himself or the system that landed him, in his last working years, a job as a mere night-watchman in a government ministry office building.

A self-proclaimed hypocrite and dedicated drunk, along the way Cresswell namechecks a few contemporary who’s-whos of the day – some with pride, such as critic Allen Curnow who gave his poetry a favourable review, and others with derision, as with Katherine Mansfield, although his scathing critique of her work seems to mainly consist of misogynistic envy. 

Cresswell’s eventual suicide is declared upfront in the blurb, further indicating the analytical-essay nature of the piece, as opposed to story-driven mystery play.  It is arguably appropriate, in that perverse way things sometimes are, that this season has opened on the day Robin Williams died – an entirely different character both half a world and century apart, yet who (allegedly as I write this) came to the same conclusion about his own existence and the discontinuation thereof.


Editor September 11th, 2014

Quite right - thank you - and I'm duly embarrassed not to have picked it up. Corrected. 

Richard Grevers September 11th, 2014

Typo alert - it should be Allen Curnow

Make a comment

Wellingon City Council
Aotearoa Gaming Trust
Creative NZ
Auckland City Council
Waiematā Local Board logo