6.1 "Daughters of Heaven."


Forster, Michaelanne.
"Daughters of Heaven." Victoria University Press, Victoria University of Wellington, PO Box 600, Wellington, NZ, 1992. ISBN 0 86473 240 6 (contact Fergus Barrowman, Editor, for ordering information).

Permision for performance may be obtained from: Playmarket, PO Box 9767, Courtenay Place, Wellington, New Zealand. FAX No: 011 4 3828 461

"Daughters of Heaven" received the Buckland Prize for Literature (NZ) in 1993.

"Daughters of Heaven" is a play about the "Parker Hulme" murder, the trial, the incarceration and the eventual release of Pauline Parker and Juliet Hulme.

The author of "Daughters of Heaven," ("DofH") Michaelanne Forster, began research on the "Parker Hulme" case in the relative calm before the publication of the scholarly book "Parker & Hulme" by Glamuzina and Laurie. "Parker & Hulme" had quite an impact in New Zealand when it was published. "DofH" was written, performed and published well in advance of "Heavenly Creatures," ("HC") and "DofH" created its own sensation in New Zealand when performed on stage and, later, TV.

While starting from the same basic set of facts, of course, "DofH" presents a very different view of the case and the characters than does "HC." Partly, this arises from the different perspectives and goals of the playwright and the filmmakers, respectively. After reading the play, and Ms. Forster's comments (see below), my impression is that "DofH" is constructed in such a way as to transform the "Parker Hulme" case into a reflecting mirror or a refracting lens. The reader/audience is invited to view the two girls, their extraordinary, consuming passion, the society and times, and the issues raised by the murder from a vantage point outside the action, but through the startling optic formed by this extraordinary case. "HC," of course, is more concerned with presenting the view from within the girls' world, and through Pauline's eyes, in particular.

The audience is guided and prompted through "DofH" by an 'everyman chorus' in the form of the Hulme's fictional, erstwhile house-keeper Bridget O'Malley, an 'insider' who nevertheless remains outside the action. We may be lulled and titilated by Mrs O'Malley's proximity to the case, and by her conspiratorial asides, but we may be fooling ourselves if we think we will be getting the inside scoop and the straight goods from her. By the end of the play, we come to realize that Mrs O'Malley has just as many agendas as the most manipulative characters in her story, and that her proximity is illusory--she may, in fact, know little more of the 'truth' than do we, and we could well be half a world and the better part of half a century away from the murder.

Below, I have included quotations from some of the author's correspondence with me explaining the background to the play, information about performances, some reviews of the Christchurch premiere written by Christchurch journalists (which may also be used as mirrors or lenses by FAQ readers...) and some biographical information about the author. I was particularly taken by the author's suggested character-doubling scheme--it is diabolically clever and thought-provoking and, almost as an afterthought, it allows the play to be performed by only nine actors. [jp]

6.1.1 Background to "Daughters of Heaven"


The following are quotes from Michelanne Forster, the author of "Daughters of Heaven," taken from her correspondence to me. [jp]

"I interviewed a great number of people who remembered the case and knew the families and/or key people involved. I never tried to find Pauline or Juliet.

"People I talked to were very cautious about telling what they knew in 1989 when I first began my research.

"I was told by the Justice Department and the police that Pauline's diaries no longer existed... A number of the key diary entries were printed in the Press(ChCh) and Christchurch Star-Sun at the time of the trial and I used these as source material.

"My primary picture of the murder came from hundreds of 'little stories'--snippets really--told to me by people who were around at the time. School teachers, lawyers, friends, prison employees, innocent and not so innocent bystanders; they all had their say."

The following is taken from the Introduction to "Daughters of Heaven" and from notes provided me by Ms Forster. [jp]

When I first heard the story of the Parker Hulme murder I was both repelled and fascinated. I had recently given birth to my son, and a mother's brutal death by the hand of her own child seemed then, and now, the most grotesque of crimes. But gradually, as I immersed myself in the project, I became dulled, much the same way the slaughterman does as he slits the throat of a beast. The 'moider' became just another scene on a page. I collected a notebook of fragmented memories and it was these small stories which launched me towards the larger story I was after. I was hunting the psychological heart of the murder.

"What is the play about?" I find it nearly impossible to answer. Look one way it's the story of a provincial New Zealand city, restrained and nice with implicit British attitudes about class and gender, being turned upside-down by a murder, suddenly being confronted with evil.

Look another way it's about love--the sweeping away of reason and morality in a crazy tide of two-ness. It was the passionate delivery of their souls to one another that concerned me--not what the girls did in bed. Their fierce devotion and need for one another evoked my sympathy, not my disapproval.

"Daughters of Heaven" is not a piece of investigative journalism, an essay on repressive sex stereotype roles in the 1950s or a documentary to be marked ten out of ten for factual correctness. It is a play written for the stage and must be discussed in those terms. My knowledge is only that of a well- informed lay reader. What "really happened" is not the playwright's territory--the imagined secrets of the human heart are.

6.1.2 Performance information

"Daughters of Heaven" premiered at the Court Theatre in Christchurch on October 19, 1991 with the following cast:

Juliet Hulme .  . .  . . Nancy Scroeder
Pauline Parker  . .  . . Louise Frost
Bridget O'Malley. .  . . Yvonne Martin
Hilda Hulme. .  . .  . . Darien Takle
Henry Hulme/
     Justice Adams/
     Prison Officer  . . Patrick Dowman
Walter Perry/
     Reg Medlicott.  . . Ross Gumbley
Alan Brown/
     Detective  . .  . . Mark Hadlow
Honora Rieper/
     Police Matron.  . . Sandra Rasmussen
Herbert Rieper/
     Terrence Gresson. . Paul Barrett

Directed by Elric Hooper
Designed by Tony Geddes

"Daughters of Heaven" also had professional productions at Downstage Theatre in Wellington and The Watershed Theatre in Auckland (Director: Colin McColl). There were semi-professional productions in Dunedin, Hamilton and Nelson NZ.

**Note: Darien Takle played Miss Stewart in "Heavenly Creatures." [jp]

6.1.3 Articles about "Daughters of Heaven."

Calder, Peter.
New Zealand Herald, Apr. 15, 1993. p. 2:1. [jb,mf]
"To moider mother"

Houlahan, Mike.
Evening Post, May 27, 1992. p. 41. [jb]
"Daughters of Heaven relives matricide case."

Rathgen, Elody.
The Press (Christchurch), Oct. 21, 1991. [mf]
"Court's 'Daughters of Heaven'"

Appropriately, it was Christchurch where the play "Daughters of Heaven" premiered. The murder of Honora Rieper by her daughter, Pauline Parker, and Pauline's friend, Juliet Hulme, had Chrischurch people riveted in 1954. It brought attention and infamy to the city nationally and internationally.

The first production of the play is a superb piece of theatre in its conception and direction and it deserves attention locally and further afield. It treats the murder case, the relationship between the two girls, and the situations of their families with depth, sensitivity and respect. "DofH" will stand on its own as a fascinating text for performance. But for those closer to it, it is especially poignant.

The audience is shown the situation largely through the eyes of Bridget O'Malley, housekeeper in the Hulme household. This is an interesting device, similar to Robert Bolt's use of the common man in "A Man for All Seasons." It provides an excellent structure for the play, and a perspective on the hypocritically moralistic but fascinated public interest in the case, at the time and since. Outraged by the events she might have been, but Mrs. O'Malley's last cruel act leaves its own sense of horror. Yvonne Martin portrays the small-minded woman very well, with a down-to-earth aspect.

Nancy Schroeder and Louise Frost, as Juliet and Pauline, set up an intensity which keeps the audience focussed throughout. The first act is long but not once did attention wander. In real life there was between the two girls a deep emotional and intellectual connection, as well as the physical and sexual one. They totally shared their dreams and aspirations of a life together in exciting international cities as writers and thinkers. The boredom of small-town New Zealand would have to be left behind if they were to be able to fulfil their potential.

For all the touch of arrogance in both, and particularly in Juliet, the audience cannot help but be touched by the desire of the two to break the bonds of their ordinary lives. Clearly, they were much more able than the conventional mores of the time were willing to recognize, let alone encourage, in young women. Schroder and Frost convey the love of the girls, their shared understanding and pleasure at spending time with each other.

However, similarly well dealt with are the dillemmas of their two families. Honora and Herbert Reiper (sic), the parents of Pauline, played by Sandra Rasmussen and Paul Barrett, are overwhelmed by their daughter's gifts and ambitions. Understandably, they resent her preference for the Hulme household, and they worry about Juliet's influence. The audience is clearly presented with Honora's restricting concern, and Herbert's gentle helplessness.

The Hulme household, for all its material security and glamour, is not one of understanding and support for an adolescent girl. Juliet's need to rely on Pauline for intimacy is placed in a context of her parents' absorption in their own affairs. Darien Tackle (sic) is superb in the role of Hilda Hulme, and Ross Gumbley as Walter Perry is strong in support.

But the murder of a mother is a terrible act in any circumstances. This play does not avoid any of the issues. The final scene of act one conveys it fully in tableaux, combining image, lighting and sound.

The compelling interest of the play was clearly seen during interval by the absorbed discussions of the first night audience. There is nothing to deflect the concentration, including the subtle and flexible single set design by Tony Geddes. Michelanne Forster has not sensationalized her account, which is well and fully researched. Elric Hooper has delved deep into the psyche and motivation of each character and helped his cast attain a complex and many-sided interpretation of the events.

"DinH" (sic) is a play Christchurch can be proud of. It brings into the open events which have caused pain not only because of a dreadful murder, but because of the uninformed and unsympathetic gossip which accompanied it. Few will be able to ignore the deeply felt experiences of the two young women, and the tragedy of the events for the lives of all those involved. Riley, Brett.
Listener & TV Times, Dec. 9, 1991, p. 44.
"Well-crafted and a knockout"

The bare facts of the Parker-Hulme case are macabre: two adolescent girls from opposite sides of the tracks in 50s Christchurch construct and inhabit a delusion of magnificence and omnipotence, then carefully plot and carry out the murder of the lowly mother, who disapproves of thir liason, by bludgeoning her over the head with a brick 45 times.

For 37 years the city has sat on a scandal that now rises with a vengeance. First the book ("Parker & Hulme: A Lesbian View"); then the play ("DofH"); soon its TV version.

To 90s lesbians the girls have been resurrected as unlikely folk-heroines--bright women in a repressive dull town, merely resolving a personal crisis in the only way the powerless kids know how. Murder is less bad if you're a woman and a lesbian.

Enter Michelanne Forster's play, which instead sucks us into a world of delusion, escapism, hypocrisy, insanity, forbidden attraction and remorseless bloody murder, all without dodgy moral judgements or fashionable intellectual cartwheels or even once smacking its lips. She does not lift the lid on a smug provincial city, as some would want, but voyages into two immature minds that have run tragically amok.

After 18 months, five drafts, one workshop and close collaboration with director Elric Hooper, the play, when it finally opened at Christchurch's Court Theatre in October, was well-crafted and a knockout.

Weaving effectively in and out of naturalism, "Daughters" successfully employs fictitious good Catholic housekeeper Mrs O'Malley (Yvonne Martin) to moralise throughout the whole nasty affair. Though almost everyone in the Court Theatre would have known the story of the English academic's and the fishmonger's daughters, who briefly shocked the world, "Daughters" always gripped audience attention.

There have been objections to the play, and some contemporaries of the girls still want to keep the memories buried. One, reported Hooper, wanted it canned because it would offend people at Girls High, where the pair met. To the Kate Sheppard Memorial organisers, on the other hand, the play about "two gifted adolescent girls" was a timely opportunity for a fundraising evening--supper courtesy of St Martin's Parish Presbyterian Women.

Forster's play and the city that spawned it have been in a weird embrace. But "DofH" is a good drama about hot topics, and it is destined for independent life in the big wide world.

6.1.4 About the author

Michaelanne Forster is an American by birth. She has lived in New Zealand since 1973. After joining Television New Zealand in 1980, Ms Forster worked as a writer, director and producer in the Children's Department for nine years. During this time she published four children's books and wrote a number of plays for children. Since the birth of her second child in 1989, Ms Forster has worked as a freelance writer and director. Other plays written for adults include "Larnach," "Songs My Mother Taught Me" and "A Dream Romance." She is presently (1995) Writer in Residence in the Department of English, University of Canterbury, Christchurch. ["DofH" jacket notes with updating by mf,jp]

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