Written by: Rob Mokaraka, Miriama McDowell, and Jason Te Kare
Directed by: Jason Te Kare and Erina Daniels
Hannah Playhouse, 11th Jun 2019
Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson
A joint Taki Rua and T.O.A production, Cellfish is inspired by the real-life Shakespeare Behind Bars rehabilitation programme. It follows Shane (aka Shades, played by Jason Te Kare), Irish, Foof, and their fellow prisoners as they engage in Shakespearean drama classes taught by Miss Lucy (Carrie Green).
Cellfish is filled with startling twists and turns – just when you think a love story is blooming, boom. It’s a crime spree. When you believe a character has found redemption, no. They’re incarcerated for life. Audience expectation is turned on its head as characters surprise, plots thicken, and conventions are overhauled. While the action moves forward, time doesn’t. Flashbacks and flashforwards, dream sequences, rehearsal scenes, and Shakespearean soliloquies are interwoven into the fabric of the script. We never lose our place thanks to the skill of the actors, the seamless direction, and Jane Hakaraia’s symbolic and striking lighting design, which works in perfect harmony with Thomas Press’ sound design.
Just as the playwrights play, so to do the remarkable actors. Green and Te Kare portray an impressive range of characters with lightning speed and clear, hyperbolic physicality. While the old man, the ‘gangsta’, the strong silent type, and other characters are written with such depth and nuance that they don’t fall into the stereotype category, they sure are funny.
I laugh as much as I’m moved by the story and the respect that’s been poured into telling it. This extends past what I see before me to what I’ve seen before Cellfish: trigger warnings via email and in the programme that prepare me for the journey. This is an excellent example of theatre that pushes boundaries to say something important while validating and supporting anyone who might find it difficult to hear. Taki Rua and T.O.A Productions should be commended for this, and for bringing us such a fierce and unflinching examination of intergenerational violence. Cellfish is a powerful, poignant work that leaves a lasting impression.