Mr Red Light, written by Carl Bland, directed by Carl Bland and Ben Crowder of Nightsong, Oamaru Opera House, Friday, October 11.
Reviewed by Sally Brooker.
Oamaru art lovers had another astonishing treat tonight on the eighth day of the Waitaki Arts Festival. Mr Red Light, billed as “absurdly funny and joyfully inventive”, was all that and a lot more.
The set, for starters, is brilliant – a pie shop so realistic it could be in any town. The video screen behind the counter shows an array of pies and a rolling series of promotions for them. They get funnier and more absurd as the play progresses, eventually becoming a commentary of their own.
The actors are beautifully cast. Shortland Street regular Jennifer Ludlam is a delightfully eccentric old lady with mobility issues; Richard Te Are is the relatable guy serving in the shop; Jess Sayer is the edgy young customer; Simon Ferry is the luckless would-be bank robber who holds the other three hostage; and playwright Carl Bland fills minor roles ranging from an Italian soldier to an ant.
The booming voice of the unseen bumbling police negotiator is also a big presence.
Each actor gives a stellar performance, engaging the audience with fluctuating intensity and stillness.
That duality characterises the whole show – ridiculously cheesy while probing the depths of the human condition; achingly tragic while hysterically comical; literal yet symbolic.
Bland has created a remarkable play that incorporates many genres and conventions, going with them and against them to equally great effect.
There’s so much to take in that it will remain in the audience’s heads in the coming weeks, different parts coming forward to be mulled over.
Mr Red Light is a triumph. The Oamaru performance was the first on its first tour; the following shows in Dunedin, Wanaka, Nelson, Blenheim, and Tauranga deserve to be sell-outs.