New dark comedy play has serious prison message

By Mānia Clarke-Mamanu

Rehearsals are underway for a new dark comedy play that explores the lives prisoners, is co-written by Māori actors and theatre-makers Rob Mokaraka, Miriama McDowell and Jason Te Kare.

Te Kare says humour is key to tell the realities of Māori inmates who make up half the nation's male prison population.

Director Co-writer Jason Te Kare says, “I think the humour is incredibly Māori.  The topics will be something that Māori relate to around kaupapa Māori.  There are a few jokes in it that I'm not sure non-Māori will get. It's done with laughter which really opens people up.  I mean something like two cars one night by Taika.”

The two actors in the play multiple characters. 

Actor Co-writer Miriama McDowell says, “I worked in a men's prison when I first graduated from drama school.  And at the time I had this real visceral response to the stories the men told me about their lives.  And I wanted people to understand where these characters come from.”

Cellfish is the debut work from the recently created T.O.A Productions. The writing team engaged with former inmates and gang members.

“I would really hope that it changed the way people look at inmates and the way we treat inmates,” says Te Kare.

“We're constantly asking ourselves, if Māori sees this moment, what we are telling them.  So it's all about what are we trying to say in the bigger picture for Māoridom,” says McDowell.

Cellfish will debut at Q Theatre in Auckland and at Glen Innes' Te Oro Theatre in March next year.