Words Mike Beck photos Andi Crown

“With nods to Kiwi culture and its inquiry into our identity, live theatre goers should not miss this one”

Presented by Nightsong & Auckland Live, Mr Red Light is the latest theatrical production from writer Carl Bland (Te Po & 360), which he also co-directs with his frequent collaborator Ben Crowder. With its hybrid of slapstick comedy and humanistic drama, Mr Red Light is a play that delivers energetic live entertainment, while challenging its audience to look at the way we treat each other.

The premise of Mr Red Light centres around an unassuming pie shop, whose trio of staff & customers are taken hostage by a desperate gunman, himself having arrived from a botched bank robbery. By time a fragile hostage negotiator enters the scene, it’s clear that all the characters in this tale have back-stories that are unique unto themselves. Mr Red Light himself is plagued by misfortune, but he’s not the only one.

From the slow-motion unfolding of the opening sequence, Mr Red Light sets up time as one of the shows’ motifs. The concept of time itself, the duration of our existence, schedules, clock hands and countdowns are presented. There are other key themes explored in this work too; identity and the understanding of others.

When it comes to utilising the medium of theatre, Mr Red Light is a delight. Bland has run the gamut here; with focused lighting, sound effect outbursts, reference & continuity music, incorporating the audience as a character, breaking the fourth wall, rapid scene/time shifts, to name but a few.

Mr Red Light boasts a small but excellent cast, headed by an impressively all-round performance by Trygve Wakenshaw, as the titled character. His versatility & timing are infectious, & other cast members; Jennifer Ludlam, Richard Te Are, Jess Sayer & Simon Ferry all have to keep pace with him , as they too have multiple tasks to perform. Ferry in particular is kept busy in multiple roles, very much the utility team player.

Mr Red Light is an unpredictable ride, creatively using the context of a heist to explore all kinds of potentialities with the characters involved, plus the relationship between them. The gags are plentiful and intelligently scribed, providing laughs by the minute. Bland’s writing shines, ably played out by some outstanding physical & verbal musings from a diverse & talented cast. With nods to Kiwi culture and its inquiry into our identity, live theatre goers should not miss this one.

Mr Red Light plays at The Herald Theatre, Aotea Centre in Auckland till Sept 22nd. Some limited national performances thereafter.