How do we make sense of justice in a world riddled with violence against children, machinations by those in power and a daily, ongoing struggle to rise up against oppressive practices that profile, police and punish the marginalised?
Hone Kouka’s drama Bless the Child provides an unequivocal answer: whanau. Blending three different narratives in the space of two-and-a-half hours, Kouka creates a rumbling world that exposes the ugly truths of those matters.
The story pivots upon Shardae (Carrie Green) whose baby daughter has recently died; public opinion is quick to judge and rough, angry and despondent, Green offers us every cliche of the solo mum. Then she methodically breaks them down with finesse.
Shardae’s cousin, aspiring politician Khan (played by Regan Taylor) offers a stirring performance as he catches sight of himself caught in the midst of matters he seeks to obliterate. A character of almost archetypal proportions, he is counselled by his sagacious wife Hinemoa (Moana Ete) who continues to remind him of his duty to whanau. Both are forced to manage the stress of these events with a baby who will not stop crying.
Shardae’s niece Pohe (Shania Bailey-Edmonds) and friends also become involved when they take the law into their own hands and try to find the murderer by kidnapping Iraia (Scotty Cotter), Shardae’s ex-boyfriend.
Far above the ruckus, lightning slices the sky and thunder booms. The gods are uneasy and Ruamoko (the god of unborn babies) rumbles in his distress.
Under Miria George’s direction, this highly dramatic play is set in a world strangely resistant to realism. Glaringly harsh lighting, unflattering costumes and truncated spaces contribute to creating a fascinating, if occasionally awkward, vortex of truths that heighten the nature of these crimes and force us to face them head on.
Kouka’s script could be edited; some dialogue is occasionally redundant and the episodic nature of the scenes is more akin to television drama than theatre. Nevertheless, the power of the work is found in the final address in which the audience is asked to take accountability for the tragic events. This is, as the creators suggest, a story for every single one of us.