Te Oro, 98 Line Road, Glen Innes, Auckland

16/03/2017 - 17/03/2017

Hannah Playhouse, Cnr Courtenay Place & Cambridge Terrace, Wellington

11/06/2019 - 15/06/2019

Globe 2, Globe Theatre, 312 Main St, Palmerston North

29/06/2019 - 29/06/2019

Papa Hou Theatre at the YMCA, 12 Hereford Street, Christchurch

06/06/2019 - 07/06/2019

Q Theatre Loft, 305 Queen St, Auckland

08/03/2017 - 14/03/2017

Lawson Field Theatre, Gisborne

15/10/2019 - 15/10/2019

Auckland Arts Festival 2017

Te Tairāwhiti Arts Festival 2019

Kia Mau festival 2019

Production Details

Eight counts of unlawful entry using imagination, five counts of reckless use of Māori mythology, four counts possession and cultivation of Shakespeare, and one count dangerous operation of a voice class…

Cellfish is a brilliant new play written by a trio of triple-threat New Zealand theatre-makers.

Rob Mokaraka (Shot, Bro, Have Car Will Travel, Tama Tu), Miriama McDowell (Mahana, The Prophet, The Dark Horse, Paniora, No. 2) and Jason Te Kare (The Prophet, Glimmer, Waiora) have co-written this delicious dark comedy which explores the lives and layers of a unit of hardened inmates in a men’s prison.

Some are looking to improve their parole chances, others want to kill some time and one just wants to kill. Funny and insightful, this gripping new work takes us behind the walls of a New Zealand Correctional Facility and into the minds of its residents, who come face-to-face with a whole new nightmare: Shakespeare classes with Miss Lucy!

Two actors, Miriama McDowell and Mark Ruka (The Prophet, Mahana, The Patriarch, The Rehearsal, Matariki, No. 2) play multiple roles in a play where laughter and danger share the same cell.

Cellfish is the debut work from the recently created T.O.A Productions. It explores the complex issues around incarceration and the effect prison has on its inmates. The writing team engaged with former inmates and gang members as part of their research and development.

Director and co-writer Jason Te Kare says, “I find the prison world fascinating to explore dramatically. Inmate hierarchy when it’s disrupted is incredibly Shakespearean, especially if you consider how that disruption happens and what the consequences are.”

Co-writer and actor Miriama McDowell’s film and television credits include Mahana, The Dark Horse, No. 2, Hope and Wire and This Is Not My Life. She is a member of Massive Theatre Company and made her theatre directing debut for Taki Rua Productions with Briar Grace-Smith’s Ngā Pou Wahine. McDowell has recently returned from studying with Philippe Gaulier in Paris.

Co-writer Rob Mokaraka is also part of the creative team of the award-winning theatre piece Strange Resting Places which toured to American Sāmoa, Australia, London, Edinburgh, Singapore and almost every arts festival in NZ between 2007 and 2014. He’s won best Newcomer at the Chapman Tripp Theatre Awards for his role in Have Car Will Travel by Mitch Tawhi-Thomas and his film credits include Tama Tū directed by Taika Waititi.

Director and co-writer, Jason Te Kare has over twenty years’ experience in the theatre. He has worked with Massive Theatre Company, Taki Rua Productions, ATC’s 2nd Unit and Tawata Productions. After starting his career as a young actor, in Waiora, Te Kare was drama producer for Radio NZ for nine years. He has Chapman Tripp Theatre Awards for Best Newcomer (Flatout Brown), and Best New Director and Director of the Year (I, George Nēpia).

Mark Ruka has over 15 years’ experience as a director, producer, writer and actor across theatre, film and television.

Cellfish will play at two locations – Q Theatre’s Loft from 8-14 March and Glen Innes’ Te Oro from 16-17 March.

Download show programme – http://aucklandartsfestival.co.nz/assets/2017-Documents/Cellfish-v5-FINAL.pdf

Q Theatre: GA $45 | GA Concession/Group $39

Te Oro: GA $25 | GA Concession/Group $20

Q Theatre (Loft): Wed 8 Mar 7.30pm, Thur 9 Mar 6.30pm, Fri 10 Mar – Sat 11 Mar 7.30pm, Sun 12 Mar 2.00pm & 7.00pm, Mon 13 Mar – Tue 14 Mar 8.00pm

Te Oro: Thurs 16 & Fri 17 March 7.00pm

Q Theatre: qtheatre.co.nz | 09 309 9771 or ticketmaster.co.nz | 09 951 2501

Te Oro: teoro.org.nz | 09 890 8560

1hr 30 mins no interval

Suitable for ages 16+

Contains strong language and adult themes

@aklfestival | #aklfest
Festival trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cxrRTpSEIfk&feature=youtu.be

Eight counts of unlawful entry using imagination
Five counts of reckless use of Māori mythology
Four counts possession and cultivation of Shakespeare 
and one count dangerous operation of a voice class…

Taki Rua and T.O.A present Cellfish, where hardened inmates come face to face with a whole new nightmare:
Shakespeare classes with Miss Lucy!

Papa Hou, Christchurch YMCA
Thur 6 Jun – Fri 7 June 2019
$12.00 to $45.00

Hannah Playhouse, 12 Cambridge Terrace, Wellington
Tues 11 – Sat 15 June 2019
+ matinees:
Thur 8 June, 12 noon
Sat 15 June, 2pm 

Further Touring June 2019. 
New Plymouth – June 19
Hamilton – June 22
Whangārei – June 26
Palmerston North – June 29 

Te Tairāwhiti Arts Festival 2019

Lawson Field Theatre
Tuesday 15th October 2019
12:00pm & 7:00pm 
General Admission $25, Concession $20
Performed in both English and te reo Māori.
Warning: This production contains the depiction of domestic violence and abuse, gunshot sounds, coarse language and uses haze. 

2017:  Miriama McDowell and Mark Ruka 
2019:  Carrie Green and Jason Te Kare 

Theatre ,

1 hr 30 mins

A standout in a shimmering sea of wonderful presentations and productions

Review by Beatrice Papazoglou 17th Oct 2019

“I’m not locked in here with you. You’re locked in here with me.” (Rorsach, Watchmen)

The stage is small, with a set that is tight and spare. Surrounding a bare rectangle, black and red cords replicate the bars of a prison with the same sense of impenetrability that metal would convey for those locked inside. And make no mistake, the intimacy of Gisborne’s Lawson Field Theatre means that the audience is very much in the room with a crowd of hardened, convicted criminals as they unwillingly attend a pōwhiri for an eager, Pollyanna-ish Shakespeare tutor.

This diverse, motley crew, their Corrections Officer and Miss Lucy the teacher are however played by only two actors. Carrie Green and Jason Te Kare are two of Aotearoa’s finest actors, and their seasoned skills shine in Cellfish. While they each have a central role to embody (Miss Lucy and Shane, respectively), the rest of the characters are all played by them as well, with the actors swapping the roles between them – regardless of gender, voice or physicality – with breath-taking ease and precision.

The plot also unfolds apace, with flash-forwards and -backwards filling in the stories and fantasy lives of each inmate as we discover the awful, heart-breaking truth of why they are incarcerated and what they wish their life could have been like. The script smoothly transitions between modern speech and the words of William Shakespeare, with the latter being both proven once again to be timeless – and no less brutal or to the point than our own contemporary language. Shakespeare is not only the language of violence and despair here, however. Each character, from the young and fronting Irish to Ravi the Corrections Officer, finds at least some redemption and hope in the 400-year old words.

Te reo and te ao Māori are rightly stars here as well, with whaikōreroand tales involvingatua and taniwha (among others) shining easily next to the gems laid down by Shakespeare and Cellfish writers Jason Te Kare, Miriama McDowell and Rob Mokaraka. Te Kare is also the director of the piece (with rehearsal directing for this incarnation of the play undertaken by Erina Daniels), and we see a sure-footed production before us.

The imagery and placing of the actors stays fresh to the end, with care always taken to let us in on the feelings of the characters in moments such as a hongi-line – which can often be lost through the distance between the audience and an actor. Under this guidance, the acting entwines seamlessly with Jane Hakaraia’s expert lighting of her own set and makes the most of the rich sound design of Thomas Press. The seemingly simple but highly effective costumes, designed by Kristin Seth, appear to transform in meaning before our eyes as the actors make each character arrive and return through their prowess.

There is no clean, feel-good end to Cellfish. As the play proceeds and darkens, one could be forgiven for thinking that there can be no catharsis or escape here, and that our hearts will be left as bloodied as Watchmen’s Rorsach leaves his adversaries. But the sense of different paths for each of us, of the even slight chance of love and forgiveness in the face of despair and ruin, and of the possibility of unlocking our personal doors by constantly choosing the other, is what seems to stay with the audience as we leave the theatre.

Cellfish is a standout in a shimmering sea of wonderful presentations and productions at the inaugural Te TairawhitiArts Festival, which runs until October 20th.


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A superbly performed prison pas de deu

Review by Richard Mays 01st Jul 2019

Raw, unrelenting and confronting, Cellfish is a timely reminder that our world floats precariously on powerful personal, generational and social undercurrents.  

The multi-faceted pun of the title hints at these turgid below-surface complexities, and how our everyday streets and suburbs are over-ripe with tragic potential. 

Lucy, a tutor for Shakespeare Behind Bars is accepted by a prison officer and select inmates of a Department of Corrections facility, and proceeds to introduce them to The Bard. [More


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Powerful performance makes you laugh, cry and think

Review by Eleanor Wenman 17th Jun 2019

Shakespeare, te reo and prisoners – a seemingly odd mix on the surface, but the play Cellfish masterfully combines all three for a powerful, introspective performance.

Directed by Jason Te Kare, Cellfish is on its first tour around the country after runs in Auckland and it’s about time the rest of the country has the chance to watch this powerful performance. [More]


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The quest for love permeates and predominates

Review by John Smythe 12th Jun 2019

When Random House commissioned the Hogarth Shakespeare series of contemporary novels retelling the stories of Shakespeare’s plays (launched in 2015), it was New York writer Jo Nesbø who took on Macbeth (2018), setting it in a rundown 1970s industrial town where a police force is trying to deal with drug lords. And Margaret Atwood’s Hag Seed (2016) sees the betrayed, embittered and grieving Artistic Director of a prestigious Theatre Festival director return from exile to run a drama course in prison and reviving his sabotaged The Tempest in order to exact revenge against the traitors who destroyed it and him.

But back in 2013, Rob Mokoraka, Miriama McDowell and Jason Te Kare, as T.O.A. Productions, began to develop Cellfish as a two-hander play in which the themes and plot of Macbeth seep into the drama classes run by Miss Lucy in a high security Kiwi men’s prison. With Miriama McDowell and Mark Ruka performing the seven characters, directed by Jason Te Kare, Cellfish premiered at the 2017 Auckland Arts Festival, and had a further Silo season in 2018.

Now Taki Rua has joined forces with T.O.A. to remount it for a month-long tour with Jason Te Kare and Carrie Green as the Kaiwhakaari/ Performers, and Erina Daniels as Kaitohu Parakitihi/ Rehearsal Director.  

When the haka prologue morphs into a cheery “Hello” from Carrie’s Miss Lucy, and she and Jason manifest the inmates Shane, Irish, Foof, Tane and Mo, along with Ravi the warder, we know we’re in for some fun. And so we are …

Ravi loves his ‘Wiremu Shakespeare’ and sees himself as Benvolio, the peace-maker. Lucy uses “All the world’s a stage” to introduce herself, declares “Shakespeare saved my life” and offers ‘Beautiful Children’ as her waiata. The hongi line cleverly reinforces the different characters again. Positivity prevails.  

Sonnet 130, which parodies the conventional love sonnet, prompts us to look beyond face-value for a deeper truth as the action plays out in a seamless flow. In a competitive exchange, the legends of Tane Mahuta and Maui vie for shock value. More modern avenging hero mythologies, as per popular movies, suggest nothing has really changed. And it emerges there is history between Lucy, still haunted by a childhood experience, and Shane, who has worked to overcome his violent past and is firmly focused on proving his rehabilitation to the Parole Board. The ‘king’ of the prison, Big Nate, also looms large as an unseen presence.

As the drama class exercises and games offer a blend of light entertainment and poignant insights into inmates starved of support, opportunities and aroha, unshakeable past experiences surface, demanding attention and raising the age-old dilemma of whether revenge or reconciliation is the better way forward.

In a simple cage-like set designed and evocatively lit by Jane Hakaraia, with a haunting sound design by Thomas Press, this rarefied mix of myth, legend, fact and fantasy leap-frogs steps in the journey, leaving us to determine what exactly has happened and what is being imagined. The important thing is that we conjure with the possibilities and probabilities in the process of engaging with these people who have serious stuff to come to terms with.  

There is a sequence in a bar, for instance, where a casual pick-up leads to a dance that progresses from romantic to deadly. It could be a ‘dumb show’ depicting the Othello-Desdemona story or it could be something that has happened or might happen to the real people in this story.

At the beginning of these lives, throughout them and now, the quest for love permeates and predominates. Cellfish is an exceptional show you need to see.


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Densely populated by two outstanding actors

Review by Lindsay Clark 07th Jun 2019

There is no mistaking the gut-wrenching impact of this play and this production as we are immersed in life behind bars among toughened inmates who measure out their time away from the more comfortable world we mostly live in. Director, co-author and actor Te Kare writes that “there are no easy answers”. The purpose of the work is rather to reflect the problem that starts with social issues and seeps through generations where violent crime and abuse are the wretchedly familiar outcomes.

The audience at Papa Hou is riveted by a kaleidoscopic performance, snatching at the encounters of Miss Lucy, drama teacher, and a group of prisoners, willing to tackle the discipline and discoveries of Shakespearean text – “not even written in English” is the initial gripe. The titular pun is realised as we see the single minded struggle for survival, if not supremacy, in their world.

In particular it is a Māori world that we see, but an Indian Corrections Officer (a would-be Benvolio, exuding hopeful good will) and indeed the universal thrust of Shakespeare’s words widen the picture. Text from the Scottish play becomes increasingly relevant as relationships develop and are revealed. Sometimes Miss Lucy’s exercises lead to the enlightenment we’d hope for and sometimes they reveal deeper hurt and damage than can be eased away in the course of a class or a lifetime.

The image of the play is of a densely populated and often hierarchical society. It is remarkably created by only two outstanding actors whose supreme physicality and vocal skill makes for lightning changes through multiple roles and situations ranging from humorous to shatteringly painful. At the same time, there is not a hint of indulgence or sentiment in the work, resulting in an even more forceful outcome for us. 

Carrie Green is primarily Miss Lucy, relaxed, assured and insightful but tested in her own terms as the play develops. Jason Te Kare has many roles but must be remembered for his Shane, generating a full spectrum of bravado, despair and insightfulness as he overcomes the ‘taniwha’ of the past.  

That is not to say that we have a tritely happy ending, only that we have been given some powerful instances of how to see beneath the surface of things.


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Bard behind bars sure to intrigue

Review by Janet McAllister 10th Mar 2017

The boringly obvious trope for a Shakespeare-in-prison narrative is salvation through supposed enlightenment and Cellfish could so easily have been To Miss, With Love, with Miriama McDowell as Sidney Poitier.

But refreshingly, this complex, knowing two-hander avoids this trap, and instead plays with audience expectation on many levels. For instance, an idealised Corrections Officer identifies with Shakespeare’s Benvolio (he wants the best for everyone) and also speaks fluent te reo with an Indian accent. It’s great to see an onstage exchange between Maori and non-Pakeha tauiwi unmediated by Pakeha. [More


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Starting a conversation that can’t be ignored

Review by Nik Smythe 09th Mar 2017

Two wooden chairs occupy the centre stage area, covered almost completely by a grey textured rug.  Upstage, two figures stand strong and still in the shadows, facing out towards us through symbolic bars of fibre that line the back and sides of the performance space as indistinct sounds of people and activity reverberating inside a concrete room play through. 

Actors Miriama McDowell and Mark Ruka – she in a blue denim shirt; his washed out and sleeveless – step forward and begin a haka that doubles as introduction and opening scene.  Almost immediately we are introduced to the various characters that populate the penal institution in which the story takes place, and to the stylistic convention of continually switching between different perspectives in time, space and reality. 

Both actors portray multiple roles, occasionally even sharing; necessarily, the characters and their actions are distilled caricatures, portrayed with assured distinction.  The dramatic concept juxtaposes the ‘real’ world occupied primarily by the inmates and Rashid the prison orderly, with the big universal themes of Shakespeare, presented to them in the context of a progressive drama programme tailored to their circumstances.

Course leader Lucy is the sole female character, bravely confronting these disaffected and damaged jailbirds with typical tough-guy handles like ‘Shades’, ‘Mo’, ‘Irish’ etc.  The broad themes of revenge and justice that permeate the Auld Bard’s classic tragedies interface with the men’s own various violent backstories as they come to light, and as it turns out, Lucy’s own history bears out some unresolved conflicts of her own.

Director Jason Te Kare co-wrote the convoluted script with McDowell and Rob Mokaraka, offsetting the brutal conditions and grim dramas of prison life with a strong vein of humour.  While not quite the rip-roaring comedy one might have expected from the promotional spiels, the comical set-ups and indigenous wit definitely take the edge off otherwise harrowing themes of abuse, displacement, and the prevalent volatile mindset in which violence and criminal behaviour are perceived as worthy qualities commanding respect.

The theatrical conventions are wilfully inconsistent; some scenes are played naturally between the actors, but more often the action occurs at various perpendicular angles without direct contact.  It would take some deeper study than can be easily employed on a first viewing to dissect the significance of each scene’s chosen aesthetic, however, the engaging confidence of Ruka and McDowell’s multifarious turns make the conceit easy to accept, regardless of how well such details are comprehended. 

It’s similarly an effort just to consistently follow all the narrative threads within all these rapidly interchanging characters and spatial perspectives, not to mention the odd song and dance number.  Jane Hakaraia’s dynamic lighting and Thomas Press’s evocative holophonic sound effects definitely help to reconcile the sometimes nebulous contrast between reality and fantasy when it’s not entirely clear which dimension we’re in. 

Te Kare’s insightful and respectful address in the programme describes the inspiration behind the work, and the Theatre of Auckland company’s agenda to create something that will start conversations that can’t be ignored.  In this case, that would be the conversation about criminal culture and the government’s questionable measures in combatting them, and the continuing compellingly disproportionate numbers of Maori and other minorities within the justice and corrections systems.

As crucial as these conversations are, numerous key parties in the debate are remarkably skilled at ignoring any essential aspects that threaten their own prescriptive attitudes.  Just how much this particular piece of complex theatrical art will achieve in shifting the elephants incarcerated in the room remains to be seen. Nonetheless, the T.O.A’s mission deserves the acknowledgment and support of all and sundry.  


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