The meaning of life is found in a pie shop in a Waitaki Arts Festival play.
Mr Red Light is on stage at the Oamaru Opera House on Friday next week – the first stop on its first tour.
Its writer, co-director and cast member Carl Bland, spoke to the Oamaru Mail by phone from Auckland, where he was having a week off after the play’s three-week debut season there.
“It went really well,” Bland said.
The title character is a man dogged by bad luck. He tries to rob a bank but botches it, ending up instead in a pie shop with three extremely unco-operative hostages. Outside is possibly the world’s worst police negotiator.
While the hostage release arrangements are bungled, the four in the shop get to know a bit about each other and form an unlikely bond.
Even more unforeseen is how much Mr Red Light seems to know about his captives.
Shortland Street stalwart Jennifer Ludlam leads the cast of five. She is joined by veteran New Zealand theatre actor Simon Ferry; rising star Richard Te Are, who played Teina Pora in the television movie Dark Places and will feature in the BBC production of The Luminaries; and award-winning playwright and Auckward Love actor Jess Sayer.
Bland plays a range of smaller parts including an ant. “A very old ant; I can relate to that,” he said.
The characters in the pie shop were complete strangers.
“They’re all different. They’re in this situation, and they’re forced to talk.”
They found a common humanity, discovering they could relate to each other and feel the same things, Bland said.
He wanted to emphasise the similarities all people shared, especially in light of world tensions.
“At the moment, there’s lots of separation. It’s ridiculous.”
Bland began writing Mr Red Light about two years ago, “slowly working on it”.
“I often use humour as a way of bringing up topics.
“There’s lots of physical humour, good jokes, and deeper stuff too. There’s beauty and sadness.”
Bland said he had always loved stories in which a stranger came to town.
“This stranger doesn’t know the rules, doesn’t know who’s important, and who to ignore.
“The stranger has nothing to gain because they’re always about to leave.
“With this freedom of thought they succeed in changing everybody’s lives.
“They often appear to be fools or mad prophets. But a closer definition would be that they are beacons of truths.”
He was delighted with reaction to the Auckland performances.
“There was a fantastic feeling in the audience. People were excited, they were talking about it.”
Bland said it took two years to write a good play and “workshop it”.
“I’m happy with it now. I won’t tinker with it now.
“Once I saw the audience starting to respond, it gave me confidence.
“I’m really looking forward to Oamaru.”
After its star turn at the Waitaki Arts Festival, the tour will continue on to Dunedin, Wanaka, Nelson, Blenheim, and Tauranga.