REVIEW: Mr Red Light (Nightsong Productions)

Review by Cynthia Lam

Photo: Andi Crown

[Mr Red Light has got the Green Light]

‘When you’re an ant, you still have a small identity of your own…a tiny molecule of identity…. Everything is part of everything… we are no more than specs of energy in the giant passing of time’ – Ant in Mr Red Light

Mr Red Light is a new, heart-warming, funny and philosophical play that explores what happens when the titular character takes three strangers hostage in a New Zealand pie shop. From the award winning Nightsong team of writer Carl Bland and director Ben Crowder, we are brought into a relatable present-day world where love, loss, identity and squashed dreams are hashed out, and redemption waits.

The lives of three ordinary people – Eva (an eccentric old lady full of words of wisdom – played by Jennifer Ludlam), Joker (the easy-going ‘employee of the month’ – Richard Te Are), and Chrys (a sharp-tongued angry young woman who rebuffs Joker’s advances when he asks her out on a date – Jess Sayer) – are upturned when Mr Red Light (Trygve Wakenshaw) barges into the pie shop (an outstanding design by Andrew Foster).

Mr Red Light, who calls himself so because he keeps on attracting bad luck: ‘It’s about me never getting the pie that I want!’, seems to have more in common with his hostages than he realises. Joker complains that Mr Red Light is stealing both his name and his story, claiming his nickname is Mr Red Light: ‘I drive from red light to red light… I even sold my car… no, I’ve never seen a green light’. Mr Red Light confides to Eva that he is always stealing other people’s stories ‘because I don’t know who I am’.

Throughout their bickering and negotiation with Trevor (a law enforcement officer negotiating the terms of the hostages’ release – Simon Ferry), the storyline is punctuated with flashbacks and scenes that explore the inner lives of the characters, as well as that of a minuscule ant who also happens to be in the pie shop (also Simon Ferry).

Eva, a widow mourning the loss of her partner of 50 years and is waiting to die, lends her insightful observations and words of wisdom to the others throughout: ‘You don’t exist on your own, life is about the people you touch’. Themes of identity, of social and human disconnection, and of life not going the way we had planned are explored.

The brilliance of this play is that deeper issues are interrogated with a personal comedic touch and joyous spot-on humour – signalled by the audience’s roars of laughter from start to finish. The strength of the cast is spectacular, particularly physical comedian Trygve Wakenshaw; even though he has a red net covering his face for most of the play, Wakenshaw’s unique nuanced physical movements convey both humour and subtlety. Simon Ferry is also outstanding in the multiple roles he embodies, offering many comic moments.

With a winning combination of down-to-earth heart-warming comedy and sage words of wisdom, Mr Red Light left me and companion feeling both exhilarated and thoughtful, which confirmed Eva’s adage about the significance of a story: ‘A story means shelter… we all have our own story to tell’.

Mr Red Light is presented by Nightsong with Auckland Live and plays at Herald Theatre, Aotea Centre until September 22

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