MR RED LIGHT
Circa Theatre, 1 Taranaki St, Waterfront, Wellington
04/03/2020 - 08/03/2020
ASB Theatre, Hutcheson St, Blenheim
25/10/2019 - 25/10/2019
Regent Theatre, The Octagon, Dunedin
15/10/2019 - 15/10/2019
Theatre Royal, 78 Rutherford Street, Nelson
23/10/2019 - 23/10/2019
New Zealand Festival of the Arts 2020
Mr Red Light is a man who attracts bad luck. Fleeing the police after a botched bank robbery, he seeks refuge in a pie shop and finds himself in charge of three very uncooperative hostages.
As time ticks by and police negotiations are bungled, Mr Red Light and his captives play a game of getting to know you.
Each has their own troubles. For Joker, employee of the month at the pie shop, life is a party he was never invited to. Dark and defensive Chrys is trapped behind the secretive walls she’s built around her. Eva, a lonely old woman, has lost the love of her life and is staring at her own mortality. And strangely, Mr Red Light seems to know more about his hostages’ lives than is possible.
With nowhere to run and nothing to lose, the four strangers form an unlikely bond. Suddenly the pie shop is a place where anything can happen.
From the team behind the award-winning Te Po, Spirit House and 360, Mr Red Light combines the hapless humour of Dog Day Afternoon with the quirky life-affirming charm of Amelie. Joyfully inventive, absurdly funny and full of surprises, it will remind you just how mysterious and wonderful life can be.
Starring: Jennifer Ludlam, Simon Ferry, Jess Sayer, Richard Te Are and Carl Bland
OAMARU 11 Oct
As part of Waitaki Festival, Oamaru Opera House
DUNEDIN 15 Oct
WANAKA 19 Oct
Lake Wanaka Centre, Wanaka
NELSON 23 Oct
As part of Nelson Arts Festival, Theatre Royal
BLENHEIM 25 Oct
As part of Nelson Arts Festival, ASB Theatre Marlborough
TAURANGA 29 Oct
As part of Tauranga Arts Festival, Baycourt Addison Theatre
NZ Festival 2020
Wed 4 Mar – Sat 7 Mar, 7pm
Sat 7 Mar, 1pm
Sun 8 Mar, 2pm
$53 – $59 (excluding booking fees).
CAST AND CREATIVES
Mr Red Light: Simon Ferry
Eva: Jennifer Ludlam
Joker: Richard Te Are
Chrys: Jess Sayer
Trevor: Carl Bland
Writer: Carl Bland
Directors: Carl Bland / Ben Crowder
Set Designer: Andrew Foster
Lighting Designer: Nik Janiurek
Costume Designer: Elizabeth Whiting
Sound Designer: John Gibson
Video Designer: Charley Draper
Dramaturg: Philippa Campbell
LIST OF CHARACTERS
Mr Red Light
Chrysanthemum (people call her Chrys)
Eva (pronounced Ever)
Trevor Edwards (from the police crisis unit)
An Italian Soldier
Bursting with magical, theatrical moments
Review by Lindsey Rusling 07th Mar 2020
From the award-winning Nightsong team of writer Carl Bland and director Ben Crowder (Te Pō, 360) comes Mr Red Light, a tragicomic play that is difficult to define in terms of genre.
From the absurd to the simple: the hilarity, pathos, tension, physical theatre and puns are abundant.
Joker’s pie shop is invaded by the gun-toting Mr Red Light who takes the inhabitants hostage – Eva, an old lady (performed with depth and intensity by Jennifer Ludlam) who has lost the love of her life, a recalcitrant young woman (an aggressively vulnerable Jess Sayer) and the pie shop’s Employee of the Month (a genuine and flirtatious Richard Te Are) also known as Mr Red Light. [More]
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Absurdist drama peppered with laughs, gasps and ‘wtf?/omg!’ moments
Review by John Smythe 06th Mar 2020
‘Understanding’ may, at first blush, seem an odd theme to explore in an absurdist play. But dramatic energy is generated when a concept is pitted against its opposite (good v bad; sweet v bitter; imprisonment v freedom; identity v nonentity; life v death … etc). So: misunderstanding; miscalculation; confusion; lack of empathy … All these are vitally present in Carl Bland’s Mr Red Light, co-directed by Ben Crowder and Bland for one of New Zealand’s most creative, innovative and treasured independent production companies, Nightsong.
Joker’s Pie Shop is created in impeccable detail by set designer Andrew Foster, abetted by video designer Charley Draper (the two-screen menu and rolling promos are delightfully conceived and executed). The ‘fourth wall’ is literally there (or is it?) in the floor-to-ceiling windows that divide it from the street (in which we sit). Nik Janiurek’s lighting and John Gibson’s sound designs are destined to kick in with astonishing verve as the forthcoming drama unravels.
This whole environment, with hidden surprises aplenty, will turn out to be as unpredictable a character as any we are about to meet.
Meanwhile all is bright and still, including the sole Joker’s pie shop staff member (Richard Te Are), immersed in a book while nothing happens either inside or out – until the sad old woman we will come to know as Eva (Jennifer Ludlam) shuffles along the pavement trundling her dilapidated shopping trolley. Realising she has over-shot her routine destination, she backtracks to the door. (What if she hadn’t?)
The classical names and imagery of the pies on offer evoke a wealth of stories past. Chat about the book the unnamed Joker’s joker is reading prompts Eva to reveal that a story, for her, is ‘shelter’. Their exchange, like much of the action and inaction to come, is simultaneously mundane yet rich – like a pie, which may look bland (:|) on the outside but burst with untold scrumptiousness when you bite into it.
In total contrast (or is she?), wearing ‘fuck-off’ headphones and just wanting a pie and no chit-chat, Chrys (Jess Sayer) nevertheless feels compelled to challenge Joker (let’s call him that; the programme does) on the sexism inherent in the pie menu. She is singularly uninterested in Joker’s assertion that they have met before. Yet loneliness is beginning to emerge as a common denominator.
These three characters are all clearly delineated and, while diversely idiosyncratic, they are firmly grounded in the real world. The whole dynamic changes with the sudden arrival of a hoodie-hooded, gun-wielding man who has covered his head from the top lip up with a red stocking. This is the eponymous Mr Red Light (Trygve Wakenshaw), so-named for his chronic inability to get a clear run at anything; to get anywhere with his life. In this instance he has botched a bank robbery and is on the run, except he has stopped and is not exactly in hiding: he is on display in the Joker’s window. It is a sticky situation, as evidenced by the noise his shos (but no-one else’s) make as he moves.
This is where the dramatic conventions change, allowing subjective realities and/or fantasies to become manifest while, crucially, the hostage drama plays out with all due threat and jeopardy. Mr Red Light’s clumsiness and ineptitude, exquisitely rendered by this master of physical acting and clowning, only increases the very real sense of danger.
From a distance, behind our privileged position of intimate connection, a Police Hostage Unit negotiator called Trevor (Simon Ferry) plies his craft by amplified voice. And we settle in for the inevitable wait to see whether the criminal’s demand for a getaway van will be met.
I am loath to reveal any more of what actually happens in this sometimes calm yet pressured, increasingly bizarre and momentarily terrifying situation because the unpredictability, twists and surprises have to be experienced first-hand. But in the process we discover more about each character (as you’d expect from the hostage genre) and, unexpectedly, small things loom large as they come into play in the stressed-out minds we’ve tuned into.
To mention Ferry also plays an Italian soldier, an Ant and a reluctant deliverer of demands called Alan, is to hint at some of what transpires. The Ant’s soliloquy (penned and discarded, Carl reveals at the post-show Artist Talk, by his poet-playwright-actor father, Peter Bland) is a gem of poetic insight amid the confusion.
As for the other manifestations, suffice to say they are ingeniously created and activating them keeps the crew – Stage Manager Renaye Tamati; Technical Operator Emma Laverty; Sound Operator Ollivier Bailester – very busy. The skills of Fight Choreographer Alex Holloway also add great value to the show.
Although the characters are relatively isolated, the actors work together as a dynamically integrated ensemble, timing every beat to draw us in and generate our collective responses, be they laughs, gasps or ‘wtf?/omg!’ moments.
Absurdism is relative: it is only so in relation to what we believe is real and reasonable, and there is plenty of that in Mr Red Light. Given the greater understandings we have gained through our venture into the absurd, the ending is not what an empathetic person wants. But it’s all too real and therefore what is needed to snap us out of this dangerously illusory world. Or is it?
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Absurd, sublime and keeps the audience captive too
Review by Shalom Del’Monte-Aberhart 26th Oct 2019
“How many stories are out there?” asks Eva (pronounced Ever) at the beginning of Carl Bland’s absurd, profound and above all, funny play Mr Red Light. Well I wonder how many stories there are that contain such a bizarre range of characters; that move so quickly from the heights of slapstick ridiculousness to thoughtful insights; that enable an audience to connect both emotionally and intellectually while revelling in the delight of hearing Kiwi accents in a Kiwi context. I would suggest, not many.
Set in a pie shop called Jokers, Mr Red Light brings together four people (five if you count the never-seen hostage negotiator Trevor Edwards brilliantly voiced by Carl Bland himself) who are isolated and disconnected from others. The story starts as a regular customer Eva (Jennifer Ludlam) enters and gets her usual pie order. Jokers employee, Joker (Richard Te Are) is soon distracted when another customer Chrys (Jess Sayer) enters and he realises she is someone he knew in the past and would like to know better. His inept flirting is interrupted by a frenetic Mr Red Light, who proceeds to hold the three of them hostage while trying to negotiate with Police crisis member Trevor Edwards (Carl Bland.) There are guest appearances by a range of other characters – all played by Carl – but I won’t spoil the surprise by naming them.
All performances are strong and cleverly executed. Richard Te Are, is the epitome of retail employee perfection, Jess Sayer is instantly recognisable as a young tortured soul, Carl Bland’s performance changes so completely with each character that it is difficult to remember that they are all played by the same person and Simon Ferry brings us into the manic world of someone who has lost control of their life. However, Jennifer Ludlam’s performance is a master class in how to bring a character alive. From the first agonisingly slow entrance – how long does it take to walk across a stage? – to the last clasping of hands, Jennifer’s performance never falters.
The cast are ably supported by one of the most incredibly detailed sets I have ever seen. Designed by Andrew Foster, most of the stage is taken up by two glass shop fronts, tables, chairs, counter, oven – in fact everything that you would expect to see in a pie café. It is stylish, captivating and manages to feel spacious yet claustrophobic – a juxtaposition that adds to the overall atmosphere of absurdity. The set dressing is, if possible, even more detailed. From the warmer full of pies and the maneki-neko on the counter (the Japanese good luck cat) to the condiments on the counter, you feel as though you are looking into a real café. Make sure to keep an eye on the electronic screen at the back. The advertisements for the pies are worth checking out.
There are a couple of areas that don’t work as well. The soundscape, designed by John Gibson, is effective in adding to the atmosphere but not so effective in enabling the audience to hear. At times the music playing underneath the characters’ speeches makes deciphering them difficult and at least one of the guest characters is very difficult to understand. There are times when the humour feels a little bit forced and when there is so much going on that the audience is unable to keep up. Also, the nods to the local area (Trevor is the head of the Marlborough Police Crisis team) don’t work here, as a major part of the plot line revolves around red lights. Marlborough is the roundabout capital of NZ, with never a traffic light to be seen!
However, despite such minor issues, directors Ben Crowder and Carl Bland manage a Herculean task. They take a jaded, weary audience on an 85-minute journey through situations that are both believable and, at the same time, unbelievable. They take the paradox at the heart of the story and wring every last drop of humour out of the juxtaposition of the absurd and the sublime. They celebrate its childishness while polishing its philosophical insights. They delight us with puns which put the best dad jokes to shame and make us reflect on our connection to other people.
Eva says, “In a story everything is significant.” Everything in this cleverly crafted script is significant and it unfolds in a way that keeps the audience as much of a captive as the hapless hostages themselves.
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Gets a very clear green light
Review by Lisa Allan 24th Oct 2019
My first impressions are off the chart. Nelson’s historic Theatre Royal, the oldest operational wooden theatre in Aotearoa, is no more. In its place an incredibly detailed and life-like pie shop, complete with lit up menu board, a pie warmer with actual pies inside it and all the other bits and bobs you would find in such a joint. I’m excited by the utter transformation of a space I know so well!
The design of this show certainly has a life of its own and is a feature that almost makes me drool with awe. The set is one element of a thoroughly comprehensive, carefully put together feast of props, lighting, sound, video and costume. Surprising, delightful, wonder-ful: Mr Red Light designers – Andrew Foster (set), Elizabeth Whiting (costume), Nik Janiurek (lighting), Charley Draper (video) and John Gibson (sound) – you are masterful and you make this pie shop hostage dramatic farce look and sound so good!
I love the pace of the start; that the directors – Ben Crowder and Carl Bland (playwright) – are confident enough to take their time. I love that the simple shuffled action of an entrance and exit make clear to the audience the rules of the set – namely, where the walls are and where the doors are. From here on, however, I miss something that the appreciative audience around me seems to get. Perhaps that invisible but firmly imagined wall between the actors and the audience becomes a little too real for me. I struggle to connect to the characters. I am quite far back in the auditorium, so perhaps this is contributing to my experience, but from where I am, having that ‘wall’ between us gives the performance a cinematic, removed feel and things that would normally have me crying with laughter, roll past me like tumbleweeds. This is odd.
This production has all the elements of what would normally get a big fat tick from me – great actors (Simon Ferry, Jennifer Ludlam, Richard Te Are, Jess Sayer, Carl Bland), slick tech, interesting ideas, surprise, silliness, fantasy and absurdism, but the glue that holds and elevates these things doesn’t seem to be there on this night.
The exception to this is when the subtly charismatic Carl Bland enters (in multiple roles). The difference is energetic. It is an aliveness that comes through being part of a fantasy, owning your material and sending it out with a confident vibrancy to every reach of your performance space.
Despite my personal inability to connect to the main characters and action of this play, I enjoy the information they reveal about themselves as the story unfolds and the clever ways this happens. A few of the fragments that will stay with me are Eva’s quirky laugh (Ludlam), Chrys’ vulnerability (Sayer), Mr Red Light’s dance moves (Ferry) and high note, Joker’s forest house (Te Are) and, of course, the ant (Bland) and the exploration of scale.
There is a lot of hearty laughter in the theatre, enjoyment of the daft but endearing word-play and a scattered standing ovation at the end. For the majority of the audience I’d say this play gets a very clear green light.
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Pie shop story offers many quirky moments
Review by Barbara Frame 18th Oct 2019
Mr Red Light is the author of his own inept plot.
”I don’t have a life,” he says. He never gets the pie he wants, and his name is either hastily invented or stolen. Having taken three people hostage in a pie shop, he’s woefully short of strategy or even motive. What he does have, though, is a gun.
The shop itself is much like any other brightly-lit fast-food outlet, but it can on occasion accommodate other time and space dimensions. Set design by Andrew Foster cleverly gives the audience the impression of watching the action through the shop’s glass exterior wall. [More]
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A fabulous creation
Review by Kimberley Buchan 16th Oct 2019
Tonight we take shelter in the story of Mr Red Light: the story of a man plagued by bad luck, taking hours to get anywhere because he always hits the red light. Fairly predictably, when he tries to rob a bank it all goes wrong. He ends up in a pie shop with Eva, the Joker and Chrys.
Trapped together in a hostage situation with tension mounting, things get weird. As things unravel, so does reality. While the characters question the meaning of life and swap identities, the pie shop is visited by an array of creatures including [spoilers averted]. On paper this may sound gimmicky but in actuality it enhances the action of the stage.
The elderly and heartbroken Eva is played with consummate professionalism by Jennifer Ludlam. She inhabits her role completely and seamlessly makes the most of every opportunity to connect with the audience. Her reaction when she [spoiler averted] is exquisite.
The Joker, the original Mr Red Light, is played by Richard Te Are. He creates genuine relationships with the other characters. It is a challenge to pull off a decent-hearted character convincingly, but Te Are does it.
The prickly and defensive Chrys is rescued from becoming a stereotype by the assured skill of Jess Sayer. Her utter vulnerability when [spoiler averted] and her deft timing add fine touches to Chrys.
Simon Ferry plays the hostage-taker, Mr Red Light. He works hard to keep the tension and the pace of the play up. Ferry gives the most wholeheartedly hilarious delivery of the line [spoiler averted] that I have ever heard. His adept physicality while [spoiler averted] has the audience convulsing with laughter.
The playwright, Carl Bland, plays all the other characters. Every single moment Bland is on stage is delightful. Particular highlights would be his adorable performance of Alan and his portrayal of the passion of the [spoiler averted].
As co-directors Ben Crowder and Carl Bland work wonderfully together to create a show that does not hesitate to take its audience from hilarity to spectacle to provocative philosophy and to despair and back before you can catch your breath.
Andrew Foster should be applauded for his set. It is very impressive with both its construction and how it brings to life the concepts thrown at it by Bland’s writing. It would be best viewed in a theatre where the audience is positioned above rather than below the stage.
One of the hardest things about touring is setting up the tech so that the lighting is timed perfectly and the voices of the actors don’t come across as flat in the sound system. But one of the best things about touring that more people will be able to see this fabulous creation across the whole of New Zealand.
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