Cellfish is an exceptionally well-executed production. Written by Miriama McDowell, Rob Mokaraka and Jason Te Kare, the work demonstrates the advantage of development, dramaturgy and investment — and it's certainly come a long way from its first showing at Te Oro in Glen Innes.
Cradled in the capable hands of performers Carrie Green and Jarod Rawiri, the story follows the journey of Miss Lucy (a drama teacher and Shakespeare fan) who has been given a contract to work with a group of diverse prison inmates.
The two performers, with bitingly specific detail, portray all the characters with lightning-speed switches. The archetypes are easily recognisable: strong and silent, boisterous yet charming, shy yet quietly bold — and warmly familiar without the clichés. There's also the Indian warden who speaks fluent te reo — another nod to the swell of dialogue that is growing between tangata whenua and diverse tauiwi.
The sheer physicality, the numerous characters and visible dexterity make for compelling watching and both Green and Rawiri's performances are close to impeccable.
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Te Kare's direction is smooth and taut and the transitions (with the exception of a slightly muddied middle) and the production move at the galloping pace of an epic tragedy. The staging, set in a horseshoe-bend for the most part is both functional and effective — even if we do lose a sense of genuine give-and-take between the performers as they are often facing away from each other.
Miss Lucy is neither a victim, nor is she redeemed. Violence against women is a theme that manages, while teetering precariously on the precipice of regurgitated statistics, to narrowly avoid falling into crudely cut stereotypes — and this is Cellfish's greatest strength.
However, the chronicles of male inmates and their hardened histories and traumas inevitably become the rather colourful backdrop for Miss Lucy's personal vendetta, rendering the overall narrative a tad underwhelming.
Under Jane Hakaraia's beautiful lighting and simple set, this is a story that blends comedy, tragedy and deeply person stories. Woven together, it is a brilliant display of theatrical virtuosity and a rare chance to watch two extraordinarily talented actors show off their skills.
Where & when: Rangatira at Q Theatre; until Sunday, June 24
Reviewer: Dione Joseph