When I walked into Cellfish, I had no idea what to anticipate. Little did I know that I would be experiencing a world of Shakespeare meets Maori mythology meets a New Zealand Correctional Facility. This story is one which is important to tell - between the comedic dialogue, tells a tale of criminal culture, overrepresentation of minorities in prisons and domestic violence in NZ. This conversation is presented by two exceptional actors, Jason Te Kare and Carrie Green, who command the stage from the moment they enter. Between the two of them, they play about 7 characters - ranging from inmates, to a prison guard, to the one female character Lucy.
At first, Lucy seems to be the hero of the story, coming in from the “outside” to conduct her Shakespeare Behind Bars programme. She contrasts to the inside world of the prison - appearing to be the light inside the darkness. However, as the story progresses, we learn more and more about each of the characters, especially Lucy’s own motivation for her service. Sitting in the audience, it sometimes feels like a morality dilemma. You know that these characters have broken the law and done morally distressing things, but you still feel a tug at your heart whenever their backstories and childhoods are performed. I was swept into the world of the play easily, despite the fact that there were just two bodies on stage. Even though there were zero props or set on stage, Te Kare and Green dominated the space - working with their bodies to create an immersive narrative. At times I felt myself gaping open-mouthed as layers of the story were built up, and twists and turns shocked me at each moment.
Blending Kiwi culture with classical Shakespeare brought a whole new meaning to the words of the 17th century playwright, and kept us as an audience intertwined within two worlds. Congratulations must go to writers Te Kare, Miriama McDowell and Rob Mokaraka, who have created a safe space to explore an important, powerful, and emotional tale. I was completely drawn into the performance, feeling as though I could laugh or cry at any moment. They have successfully created a balanced recipe of comedy and tragedy which speaks to the hearts of their audience. I could watch this extraordinary performance again and again.
- written by Danielle Sigley, 20, University of Auckland