James Hargest College Hall, Invercargill

03/04/2014 - 03/04/2014

Memorial Hall, 1 Memorial Street, Queenstown

04/03/2014 - 04/03/2014

Lowburn Hall, Cromwell

05/04/2014 - 05/04/2014

The Playhouse Café, Mapua, Nelson

08/03/2014 - 08/03/2014

Arts On Tour NZ 2014

Production Details

Truth and terror –‘Too Far from Heaven’ tour, 2 – 27 March 

It is the night before the executions of two New Zealanders – the notorious Southland ‘baby farmer’, Minnie Dean, and Victor Spencer, shot for desertion during World War 1. Through Verity, the play’s narrator, the two give harrowing accounts of their lives and reasons for their actions, pieced together from diary entries and other original material.

Based on the true stories of Dean, the only woman ever hanged in New Zealand, and Spencer, the Bluff lad killed by firing squad in Belgium for deserting a war he had forged his age to join, ‘Too Far from Heaven’ [then titled A Cry Too Far From Heaven], was nominated in the Best Theatre Category, Best Newcomer and Stand-out Performer awards at the 2013 NZ Fringe Festival, and performed at the 2012 Edinburgh Fringe.

Lizzie Dawson:  Minnie Dean;
Jade Gillies:  Victor Spencer;
Angela Newell:  Verity. 

‘In almost 20 years of reviewing, I’ve often been moved by productions, but seldom to tears…my personal pick of the Fringe so far’ – Lynne Freeman, Capital Times 

 ‘…a chilling piece of work ….superbly dramatized….There are questions here about poverty, war, unwanted babies, capital punishment, last suppers….’ – Pat Velkamp Smith, Southland Times

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.’ – Ewen Coleman, Dominion Post

This deceptively little play is really much bigger than itself and well worth going to.’ – John Smythe,


Monday 3 March 2pm – Invercargill
James Hargest College Hall

Tuesday 4 March 7.30pm – Queenstown  
Memorial Centre
$20 Book: TICKETEK; I-site and Queenstown Event Centre

Wednesday 5 March 8pm – Cromwell 
Lowburn Hall
Adults $25; SuperGold $20; Student/child $5 (inc. light supper)m
Book:  Cromwell I-site

Friday 7 March 7.30pm – Westport
NBS Theatre
Adults $25; Gold card holders $20; Children $12
Book: NBS Theatre

Saturday 8 March 8pm – Nelson
Dinner from 6pm
The Playhouse Café
$20 Book: The Playhouse Café 

Monday 10 March 7.30pm – Wellington  

Tuesday 11 March 7.30pm – Wanganui
Wanganui Collegiate Auditorium
Book:  Door sales from 7pm, Eventfinder

Wednesday 12 March 7.30pm – New Plymouth
4th Wall Theatre, 11 Baring Tce, Strandon
Adult $30 Senior/Student concessions $25

Friday 14 March 7pm – Whitianga
Town Hall
$15 Book: Whitianga Paper Plus

Saturday 15 March 8pm – Onewhero
OSPA Theatre
24 Hall Rd
$20 Book: River Traders 09 236 887509 236 8875 

Sunday 16 March 7.30pm – Tauranga
Baycourt X Space
Book:  Baycourt Box Office;; 0800 TICKETEK

Wednesday 19 March 7.30pm – Akaroa
Akaroa Area School Gymnasium
Adults $20; Children $10
Book:  Cash sales at Akaroa Information Centre 

Thursday 20 March 7.30pm – Ashburton
Ashburton Trust Event Centre
$25 each (fees apply)
Book:  Ashburton Trust Event Centre Box Office or 

Friday 21 March 7.30pm – Geraldine
The Lodge Theatre
$25 Book: LOUK NZ Clothing

Saturday 22 March 7.30pm – Timaru
The Playhouse, Church St
$15 Book: Steve Newman 3 Rowan Place Glen-iti Timaru

Sunday 23 March 7.30pm – Oamaru
Opera House
Adults $28; Concession $26; Students (under 18) $10 Groups $20
Book: Oamaru Opera House or Oamaru I-site 

Monday 24 March 7.30pm – Twizel
Events Centre
Adults $20; Students $10
Book: Information Centre and Mackenzie Lotto Plus 

Tuesday 25 March 7.30pm – Mosgiel
Firestation Theatre, 3 Cargill St
$25 Book 0508 ITICKET 

Wednesday 26 March 8pm – Owaka
Owaka Memorial Community Centre
$20; Gold card $18; Senior/student $10
Book: Mary Sutherland, Mohua Park, The Catlins 9586; and Catlins Café Owaka 

Thursday 27 March 8pm – Gore
The Little Theatre
$27/ $22 unwaged (+booking fees)
Book:  SBS St James Theatre or 0508 ITICKET

Sunday 28 March 8pm – Stewart Island
Community Centre
$20 Door Sales

About Arts On Tour New Zealand 

AOTNZ organises tours of outstanding New Zealand performers to rural and smaller centres in New Zealand. The trust receives funding from Creative New Zealand and liaises with local arts councils, repertory theatres and community groups to bring the best of musical and other talent to country districts. Thanks also to Interislander for support. The AOTNZ programme is environmentally sustainable – artists travel to audiences so that that small town and country dwellers can enjoy high quality entertainment in their home patch. 

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Seamless meshing of two stories

Review by Gail Tresidder 09th Mar 2014

“…any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.” John Donne  

All credit to AOTNZ for bringing this much-praised three-hander to twenty towns and cities throughout New Zealand.  It is Nelson’s turn and a good and quiet audience is totally involved with the stories of Minnie Dean and Victor Spencer – the cafe management’s decision to stop service during the play is respectful and appreciated. 

There are the boots and shoes – all black – lined up along the front of the stage.  Nowhere to walk and no feet to walk in them.  Such a powerful image – unforgettable- so simple and yet huge.  Verity, tall in a long black coat, delivers her narrative with seeming detachment.  In the part, Angela Newell is convincing, even chilling in her role as our representative for ‘justice’.  Verity: truth, death or revenge?  She is superb. 

Both Lizzie Dawson as Dean and Jade Gillies as Spencer are real and believable.  Dean with her Bible, Spencer with his tremor, are islands in their little parts of the stage.  The clever thing about this play is that the two very different stories, told simultaneously, mesh together seamlessly. Dean and Spencer together sing ‘Now Is the Hour’ and ‘How Great Thou Art’, one in English the other in te reo. Combined with the sounds of Maori instruments (Richard Nunn?) and marching feet, these are incredibly moving. 

Technician Adrian Mann deserves special mention.  He who controls the lights and sound does splendidly, especially as the computer develops a glitch and he has to cope manually.   

Dean, found guilty of infanticide was hung in 1895. Spencer is the last of three New Zealand soldiers, shot at dawn under British Military Rule in the First World War. Spencer has, eventually, been pardoned posthumously – the jury is still out on Minnie Dean.

The worst thing about it all is that terrible events still happen.  There is more than an echo from this excellent play in our world of today. John Donne said it all.


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Vivid recreation close to home

Review by Sue Wards 06th Mar 2014

There was more than a touch of southern gothic in the Lowburn Hall last night, as three Southlanders enacted the last hours of one notorious and one largely unknown Southlander.

As a child growing up in Southland, the name Minnie Dean (the “Winton baby-farmer”) would send a shiver down my spine, but I had never heard the name Victor Spencer. Both, however, were executed for their alleged crimes: Dean was the only woman hanged in New Zealand (1895, Invercargill, for child murder), while Spencer was shot by a firing squad (1918, Belgium, for desertion).

Too Far from Heaven dramatises the last hours of their lives, played in tandem on a small stage, linked via the role of narrator /executioner /confidante (Verity, played by Angela Newell).

The show runs for an intense hour, moving deftly from one doomed figure to the other, recounting their crimes and something of their lives. Lizzie Dawson’s portrayal of Minnie Dean is the strongest, possibly because of the amount of information the playwrights had to draw on (apparently Dean wrote for four hours the night before she was executed, while there were a scant four lines from Victor’s pen). Jade Gillies, as Victor Spencer, however, brings the carefree young Victor to life, and his very physical portrayal of shell-shock is simply distressing to watch. 

Newell’s delivery isn’t always convincing, but her contemporary language and inflection may be a device to bring the issues she touches on starkly into the present (most obviously the death penalty, but there are plenty of others, including social and military values and religion). 

Some of the most poignant moments are created through music, in particular a joint rendition of Whakaaria Mai sung in Te Reo (Spencer) and English (Dean).

The histories brought to life on stage became that much closer after the show, when southern connections in the small audience were revealed. Audience members included a direct descendent of Minnie Dean, an elderly woman who remembered the Dean family and who danced on Dean’s grave as a child, and a spry 93-year-old woman who was delivered into the world by a midwife who had worked for Dean as a 14-year-old girl. This woman understood that her father was a member of Dean’s initial, abandoned, jury.

The local arts council spokesperson also drew attention to the plaque on the wall, which named 18 Lowburn men killed during World War I. The post-show chill in the air wasn’t a southern frost: it came from the vivid recreation of two lives and the context around their tragic ends. Far from heaven; close to home.


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