Dark comedy features prisoners, Shakespeare and Fred Astaire

What happens when a Shakespeare drama teacher meets a bunch of hardened criminals? Taranaki Community News sat down with actor, writer and director Jason Te Kare to find out.

Hey Jason! You’re heading to New Plymouth soon with your show Cellfish. What’s it about? 
The show is a mix of a fish out of water comedy, dark comedy and drama. A woman teaches Shakespeare in a men’s prison, throwing both the inmates and the teacher into uncomfortable and hilarious situations. 

You’ve had sold out seasons in Auckland, and you’re now touring around New Zealand. What are people saying about the show?
There is a Fred Astaire and Ginger Rodgers inspired dance sequence and it is the scene most people like to talk about. The dance comes as a complete surprise, as does the scene’s final conclusion.

Cellfish is inspired by the Shakespeare Behind Bars programme, a real rehabilitation method
used in the U.S.

Unexpected is the word people use the most about Cellfish and that’s been the hardest part about telling people about the show. I have seen marketing teams from Auckland Arts Festival, Silo Theatre and now Taki Rua Productions struggle with it. How do you tell people about a show with so many unexpected surprises, without giving them away?

Finally, people who love Shakespeare enjoy seeing some of his well known scenes and speeches in a different context. While those who aren’t into Shakespeare or never really understood his words, find the new setting makes it easy to understand. 

Jason says Cellfish is filled with humour and a lot of laughter, as well as emotionally charged moments of danger.

You learned a bit about the transformative power of love when you were a kid. Can you tell us about that? 
I grew up in a halfway house for at-risk youth run by my mother. The characters in Cellfish remind me of those young people; complex, charming and at times volatile.

For so many there was a connection between their anti-social behaviour and the abuse they’d been through. Their perspective on life was skewed to idolise crime and violence. 

Love and support was what my mother offered consistently over the years. A gentle, genuine and patient approach to connecting with the young person. In time her approach taught empathy to those young people, firstly for my mother because she cared so much for them. Then for others around them.

It wasn’t always easy, in fact it was incredibly hard, but it also wasn’t all doom and gloom. There were a lot of laughs and fantastic times. 

Starring highly-acclaimed actors Jason Te Kare and Carrie Green, CELLFISH shines a light on those our society keeps hidden inside.

Not only did you co-write and direct Cellfish, you’re also starring in it. That’s a massive undertaking! Is it challenging?
Thankfully Erina Daniels has come in as the rehearsal director. So when we’re rehearsing, I mostly leave the directing to her and focus on acting.

Erina and I try to keep the communication lines open, but outside of the rehearsal room. They are the two roles hardest to keep separate. The script was completed well before rehearsals started so the role of the writer is complete. However I admit my competitive nature leads to a temptation to want to change lines so my character wins an argument!

If you any three people from throughout history to a dinner party, who would you invite and what would you yarn about? 
Te Whiti o Rongomai, Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. 
Passive resistance and what approach they would take in current times to highlight the degradation of our natural environment to corporations and governments. 

Taki Rua and T.O.A. Productions present
CELLFISH
Written by Jason Te Kare, Rob Mokaraka, and Miriama McDowell
Directed by Jason Te Kare
Performing at TSB Showplace in New Plymouth on June 19.