Daffodils (A Play With Songs)

Daffodils is an unusual show of two halves. Whimsical and rather irritating in the first half, it grows into something with more stature and nuance in the final half hour. Rochelle Bright’s jukebox show about her parents’ marriage and break-up (featuring two actors and a three-piece band) initially plays out like a by-the-numbers romantic comedy. Kicking off in early 60’s New Zealand, city-boy Eric meet-cutes country-girl Rose stumbling drunkenly around in a patch of daffodils. They go on a few horrendous dates before overcoming their differences and getting hitched. The story then takes us through the long years of their slowly disintegrating marriage as disparities begin to emerge between their respective version of events, the question of whether or not Eric cheated left hanging unpleasantly in the air.

A solid show which veers tantalisingly close to excellence.

Todd Emerson and Colleen Davis are impressive, both in their vocal ability and in their evolution from naive youngsters to rattled and world-weary middle-aged adults. The stark staging (the performers keep to separate sides of the stage throughout) effectively suggests symmetry and then disconnect within the relationship and the presence of Bright herself leading the onstage band between the performers provides a rather haunting image of the relationship’s legacy.

Satisfyingly, this is more gig-theatre than jukebox musical. Rather than being foisted clumsily in to serve the plot the songs (New Zealand pop standards on the most part) often provide a sense of texture and thematic depth. The songs range from 60’s doo-wop to 90’s rock – Crowded House’s Fall at Your Feet receives an especially stirring rendition. This creates a vibrancy and eclecticism missing from many similar shows and the onstage three-piece band navigate the diversity with ease. Having said this, the presence of such protest songs as Blam Blam Blam’s Depression in New Zealand hints at a connection between the national and the personal which fails to properly materialise.

The show’s key issue however is in its sluggishness in settling down on its theme. Though it eventually decides to be a show about how patterns of dysfunction repeat themselves through multiple generations, that notion struggles to come properly into focus. Equally problematically, by the time the narrative has really started to soar in the final half hour, the songs start to feel like more and more like dead weight. A solid show which veers tantalisingly close to excellence.

Reviews by Joe Spence

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The Blurb

This is far more than boy meets girl. Rose was 16. Eric, 18. He was a teddy boy, she was a farm girl. They met at the lake by the daffodils. Same place Eric’s parents met 20 years earlier. Fate? Perhaps. This critically acclaimed heart-breaker carves out the bittersweet nuances of one couple's life to a live mix-tape of New Zealand’s most iconic songs – from Crowded House to Bic Runga played onstage by a three-piece band. Daffodils is a charming, riotous and quintessentially Kiwi love story inspired by true events and small-town family secrets.

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