The premise of A Cry Too Far From Heaven is fairly simple: a former executioner in New Zealand delves into the past, a time before the complete abolition of capital punishment came into effect in 1989. Among the condemned she reminisces about, we meet two Kiwi criminals: one is a woman who killed her babies, while the other is a WWI deserter. The two explain their situations and the executioner (a very obvious audience surrogate) finds herself questioning the morality of the death penalty. It’s a well-acted play about an interesting topic, but performed to this primarily British audience it seemed outdated and preachy; the moral debate on the topic is almost non-existent within the play, while the simple ethical questions it throws up almost seem sprung from an adolescent mind.
The play is almost entirely made up of monologues. We begin with the executioner, a lady who is amusingly detached from her job; she doesn’t think about all the death, she just does the job because somebody has to. ‘It’s of no consequence to me if you’re guilty or not,’ she says. The amusing monologue briefly lifts the play’s tone, but it soon sinks back into solemn soul-searching. A particularly striking image from her monologue is a bag of boots symbolising executed men and women; she uses these to almost gruesome effect in a hanging reenactment. An abundance of ‘yeahs’ and ‘wells’ in this section of the play aren’t detrimental to her conversational monologue, but when she later plays an army general her hesitations are very noticeable.
Two more actors play the victims. The soldier suffers from shellshock and shudders at the slightest noise. His desertion is so sympathetically portrayed that the audience is bound to disagree with his execution. Meanwhile, the woman who commits infanticide is a more complex character. She takes in abandoned children with her husband, both as an act of kindness and in order to make money. When recalling the accidental death of two of the babies, she reveals that she killed them both. However, she seems so apologetic that she too appears either innocent or psychologically damaged to the extent that her actions lacked any intent. There are some interesting visual elements to these sections including the teary confessionals of the woman written on scraps of paper and the soldier shakily tying his boot-laces. The acting is generally of a high standard and the moment the two are told of their imminent execution is genuinely poignant. Some of the lines are also brilliant, especially the thoughts going through the pair’s heads as they are about to die.
Nevertheless, none of this affects the subject matter itself. It’s simply not a very challenging play in a country where capital punishment has been out of use for almost forty years. Perhaps in a country with the death penalty still in place this show would seem innovative and thought-provoking, but here they are preaching to the choir. Some excellent moments make this show worth seeing, but don’t expect it to make you think.