Oscen Goes To… MR RED LIGHT

or THE INCREDIBLY STRANGE CASE OF HUMANITY

Photos by Andi Crown

There are two types of theatre. The first type, you get to pause your life for a second and live within the reality of the performance. The second, far more uncanny, does not pause your life, but rather forces you to see your life from the outside. This type of performance moves you from active to passive position; you become a voyeur of your own reality.

Walking into the theatre space, I was immediately aware of something being off-kilter: the set was a fully-functioning pie shop separated from the audience with a false window. Someone was reading a John Grisham novel behind the counter of the pie shop. The scene in front of me was so normal, so real, that I started to feel incredibly uncomfortable. It was as though I could not participating in my own reality — I was to sit there and watch it happen before me. All I could think of was how strange this was. It suddenly felt completely absurd to buy a pie from a pie store. It suddenly felt completely absurd to watch performances or movies. Even before Mr Red Light had started, I became painfully aware of how odd it was to sit next to someone I had never met before, would never meet again, and watch this performance. We would laugh at the same sections, fall quiet at the same sections. All this simply from the set of Mr Red Light. I must commend the set designer of Mr Red Light, because the performance started long before the performance started.

The performance itself was an hour and a half of farcical philosophising. Three unlikely characters find themselves held hostage in a pie shop by a man who seems to know much more about these characters than he should. Stories and experiences are shared, people fight, people cry, people fall in love. Mr Red Light sheds an absurdist light on the full spectrum of human emotion.

Acute and perceptive writing, brought to life with an ensemble of fantastic actors. This is a rare performance where the marriage between humour and humanity is never out of balance. Each joke has been finely constructed to never cross the line of cringe-y. The actors worked in perfect synchronisation, bouncing energy and jokes off of each other. There was a swell of energy in the theatre; Both the audience and actors felt on edge, as though we were all waiting for something to happen. And isn’t this true? We are all just going through life waiting for something to happen? This performance captured even the tiny nuances of humanness. Mr Red Light prompted you to think introspectively about the things you feel every day, and you were unaware of the effect this performance was having on you until afterwards. You left the theatre feeling as though life had slowed around you: Mr Red Light had created something akin to an out-of-body experience.

Our lives are funny and sad all at once and Mr Red Light portrays this tension perfectly. Physical farce met with metaphysical dialogues. Everyday acts of normality met with exaggerated satire. The performance is a pendulum swing of contrasts. But I never felt motion sick. Mr Red Light presents a chaos that is graceful and constrained, necessary and deliberate for the narrative. Everything connected to something and the tiniest detail had been considered. The dialogue concluded right on the cusp between funny and monotonous — a bold decision, but one that paid off (as seen by the man next to me dabbing his eyes with laughter).

Mr Red Light was something new, something different, something necessary in today’s theatre. The arts scene has been desperately stuck in the same landscape — there hasn’t been another movement or another shift. But Mr Red Light felt as though it existed in its own climate. A mixture of postmodernism without the nihilism. A sort of post-post-modernism that values sincerity and humanness at the heart of its satire. It is rare to watch a performance and feel as though you are outside yourself. This was something so special about Mr Red Light: you were outside and inside all at once. Mr Red Light makes you step outside of yourself and revel in the unique absurdity of humanness.

Mr Red Light is a delirious embrace of all things human; the anger, upset, love and dying. Universal and yet uncomfortably close to home, this is a performance everyone must watch.

Mr Red Light is playing at Aotea Centre from 30 August – 22 September 2019.

About the author
Jennifer Cheuk is a Linguistics and Literature student at Auckland University. She published her first anthology of writing at 15. Jennifer is also a cartoonist and illustrator - you can find her work on instagram: @selcouthbird