Shardae, played by Carrie Green in Bless the Child / Matt Grace / Tawata Productions
The death of a loved one is gruelling, even in the best circumstances. Not only do you have to deal with grief, but you might also be dealing with regret, ‘what ifs’, guilt, and isolation. What would do you if one of the people who made your life bearable were to pass? What if you felt that you were somehow responsible?
Grief is at the heart of the new play Bless the Child, currently showing at Hannah Playhouse until March 4th, and in Auckland at Q Theatre as part of the Auckland Arts Festival from the 8th of March to the 12th. It is the brainchild of Hone Kouka, and directed by Mīria George. The concept however, came from a mother.
"The concept of Bless the Child came from a wero given to me by my mother Wai Te Atatu Kouka," says Kouka, "to write something about how we as Māori have been hurting our children. The concept was to write about how all of us are required to make change, not just a select few."
It is a heavy topic to tackle, especially within the realms of theatre. In theatre spaces, often it is not Māori who are in charge of their stories. It is pretty much impossible to apply the term empowering to the lead character – a Māori woman from an impoverished background who is dealing with the death of her youngest child. The question at the heart of the show is ‘who is to blame?’ And she is first in line. She is not the most positive role model. Nevertheless the mana of a wahine shines through her. As the director, George does well to present her in a complicated light.
“The process that the team went through was about honesty and to give voice to the span of Māoridom. To not give answers but to ask questions. We wanted people to feel that they could help and be a part of changing values.”
Upon seeing the show, my first questions were about the process. To see characters going through a colourful range of emotions in the face of this tragedy no doubt required a huge amount of wānanga for those creating the story. Should we as audience members be sympathetic, or reprimanding? Kind or stern? Would we ourselves react in the same ways or would we hope to rise above?
The answers to these questions are never provided. Truth be told Bless the Child is an unsettling play. But the wāhine characters especially present us with a complex discussion of the issue at heart. They act out several realities, and are honest to the core.
I asked Mīria what she wanted the audience to come away with. She wanted the audience to have an understanding of their own perceptions and prejudice. As well as this, she wanted the audience to have an understanding of the effect of those perceptions on others.
How do we perceive Shardae (the lead character, played by Carrie Green) in the wake of baby Ara’s death? Is she guilty of neglect? Is she guilty of murder? Can we really say we would act differently – given the right circumstance?
I think circumstance is critical to Bless the Child. Circumstance defines who we think we are. But what bearing circumstance has on our future is unclear. I think George has, in her role as director and as a wahine, tackled the discussion so well. Bless The Child may leave you uneasy, but it will give you humour and fun and honesty as well. Sheltered at each end with karakia, Bless the Child is a safe place to be challenged.
Bless The Child opens on March the 8th at Q Theatre as part of the Auckland Arts Festival. For more information, click here.Support Villainesse