Some shows work best when certain things are kept to a minimum. Prince’s “Piano and a Microphone” concerts were one such example as is the kiwi cabaret known as Daffodils [inspired by true events]. The play is a love story inspired by writer, Rochelle Bright’s parents and grandparents meeting at the same spot in New Zealand in a field of daffodils.
The staging is very bare bones. On the left we have a Teddy boy electrician named Eric (Todd Emerson) standing barefoot on a carpet and singing into a microphone with a punchy enthusiasm. On the right is the woman he eventually calls his wife, Rose (Colleen Davis) who is resplendent in a red party dress and singing her own soaring vocals into another microphone. The pair are like two islands, they don’t touch or look at each other because they really only meet through words and song and it is a testament to Emerson and Davis’s great performances that they can achieve so much with so little direct engagement.
It is the music in Daffodils that really holds this boy-meets-girl love story together. The track listing also looks like a who’s who of New Zealand music with the likes of Chris Knox, Crowded House, Bic Runga, Dave Dobbyn, The Swingers and The Mint Chicks among the references. The music is played by an indie trio made up of Fen Ikner, Abraham Kunin and Stephanie Brown. The latter also worked as the arranger for the show and plays the role of the narrator or Rochelle Bright in this story. The songs are raw and stripped down versions of the originals and they really heighten the emotion in the room as the story unfolds.
The proceedings begin with Eric and Rose meeting while the latter is drunk and “feeding the ducks” in Hamilton, New Zealand. The sweet hearted, Eric offers to drive this Presbyterian farm girl home even though she lives hours away. A romance blossoms despite Eric going overseas for a trip. The pair eventually reunite and marry and the scenes of the nuptials are accompanied by real black and white super eight footage of Bright’s parents while a whimsical version of Chris Knox’s “Not Given Lightly” plays. At other moments in the play there are other videos and photographs shown and these are courtesy of Garth Badger.
The couple negotiate the muddy waters of child-rearing, mortgages, unemployment and other domestic issues but life is not always a bed of roses or sea of daffodils. There is love, betrayal, death and misunderstandings, aplenty. A haunting version of Crowded House’s “Fall At Your Feet” really drives home the differences in the male and female’s perspectives in this intimate and personal tale. In fact, this story feels like such a private one it’s almost like the pair are recounting their own experiences from their lounge rooms and in front of around a hundred of their closest friends and family.
Daffodils is not just a classic romance, it’s also a love letter to some excellent, New Zealand music. This nuanced and emotional show is brimming with some intense moments as the audience are led in deep into the world of Eric and Rose and what it really feels like to walk a mile in their individual shoes. This play may be a story from our New Zealand cousins but it’s also a universal saga where the spoken words and music culminate to tell the tragic, romantic ballad of Eric and Rose.
The theatrical run of Daffodils at Parramatta’s Riverside Theatre has concluded. The reviewer attending opening night on 12th May. The play will tour the Illawarra Performing Arts Centre and the Brisbane Powerhouse in May.