Mr Red Light
Written by Carl Bland
Directed by Ben Crowder and Carl Bland
Presented by Nightsong and Tour-Makers
at the Theatre Royal for the Nelson Arts Festival
23 Oct 2019
Reviewed by Charles Anderson
The whole world is a pie shop. Well, at least for one night when four lives collide in Mr Red Light.
It is a surreal tale of life, love and what comes next, all merging from a decision made by the eponymous character when his bank robbery goes wrong. He stumbles into the Joker’s Pies shop and thus begins an exploration of time, destiny, consequence and puns.
We learn about the four characters, Mr Red Light, the hapless, luckless would-be robber, Eva – the eccentric old woman who mourns a love lost, Joker – the pie shop employee who would have us believe that he is as luckless as the title character, and Chrys – the acid-tongued young woman with a tormented past.
As the evening draws and the disembodied voice of the hostage negotiator enters, the hyper realism of the pie shop set is overshadowed the surrealism of the action on stage.
There are giant ants, slapstick slow motion fight scenes to 1980s soundtracks and … giant gun barrels.
But the real champion is the set and production design. Lighting, sound and props are utilised creatively and with expert timing, which helps create the curious world in which Mr Red Light exists.
The acting was exceptional, and each handled their characters’ differing development with ease. The most fully developed character was Eva, played by Jennifer Ludlam, who moved beyond a stereotype to become an almost tragic, fully fleshed person.
At its heart the show is a comedy that is trying to shoehorn in some deeper philosophy about destiny and chance. However, the light moments are delightful, but the darker moments seem forced.
It, at times, feels like it is trying to be too clever, protecting the thinly-disguised metaphors and overwriting of its key deeper themes with the softening the blow of physical and lyrical gags.
Perhaps the writer believed that his audience wouldn’t understand the messages he was trying to convey without making them sometimes repetitively overt.
The laughs from the audience were more noticeable than the introspection. It was a fun and lively piece of theatre, but the poignancy of the show was lost on this reviewer. The playwright, it seems, was trying too hard to have both.