29
May
16

Daffodils

 

Daffodils

Brisbane Powerhouse

Brisbane Powerhouse Visy Theatre

May 18 – 22 2016

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

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This is far more than boy meets girl. This is real life romance – indie-cabaret style.

Sometimes a show comes along that, for some reason, you know will be something special. It might not be big or flashy, and you might have missed it the first time around before it humbly went on its way and returned again without so much as a fanfare. Daffodils is such a show, gently urging genres to tiptoe along beside each other, gathering momentum until the conventions of theatre, music and cabaret hurtle into one another with a powerful storytelling force, leaving us completely satisfied and quite breathless.

I missed seeing Daffodils during APAM16 – a full week in February of productions and pitches to presenters – and there was no way I was going to miss the quietly acclaimed 70-minute piece this time, in a too-short touring season at the end of a stupidly busy ten year old’s birthday week. Luckily, the lovely girls at Brisbane Powerhouse were able to move tickets around to make a miracle possible, and I took Poppy to see the final performance on Sunday last week, following a fancy high tea with friends. It was a big day! It was a miracle to even get there! And Daffodils was the perfect closure, giving us much to consider, about relationships, family and the way we communicate – or don’t communicate – with each other.

What we saw of Daffodils in the lead up to its limited Brisbane season didn’t exactly undersell it – I was taken by the music and images in the marketing materials – but it didn’t prepare me for the incredible beauty and depth of its storytelling, which lies beneath the very simple premise of a story inspired by true events. And it’s a beautiful, romantic, happily-ever-after story. Until it’s not.

The parents of the playwright, Rochelle Bright (also vocalist and keys, one of three talented musicians on stage), met one night in a field of daffodils by the lake outside Hamilton, New Zealand. It was 3am and Rose told Eric she was feeding the ducks… Unbelievably, Bright’s grandparents met in the same place.

Both relationships suffered from extraordinary, perfectly ordinary, lack of communication.

The narration is shared between Rose and Eric, and the songs tell as much as the spoken word. Underscoring and overlaying distinctive accents with some of the best Kiwi indie music, the scene is set for first love, loyalty and passion, and then the antithesis of what we are led to believe every loving, long-term relationship looks like…sounds like…

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Rose (Colleen Davis) is the heart of this piece. A lesser performer would have a very different effect on the show or much worse, leave no impression at all, whereas Davis makes an indelible mark. A keep-it-real modern woman with the remains of her previous life about her like the lingering base note of a favourite fragrance – the sweet rock n roll party queen – Rose is someone we all know, or used to know, and someone whom we hope never to become quite as resentful as. 

Her Teddy Boy, Eric (Todd Emerson), is the thread that holds disparate pieces of the tale together. A true Kiwi gentleman, he takes Rose home on that first night, even though her house is an hour’s drive away. His mod punk rock persona transforms brilliantly into the demeanour of the desperate, desperately unhappy working man, working for the (old) man. There Is No Depression in New Zealand. Right. Moving upstage and downstage only, on either side of the Visy stage with hallway rugs beneath their feet and the three-piece band between them, the performers play with constantly changing energies, pushing and pulling, helping to draw out the tale’s natural ebb and flow, as if we were hearing the shared telling of it from a couple over dinner.

daffodils

The connection between Davis and Emerson is as intimate as if they are in fact at dinner; a long-time couple or the best of friends, despite the two never crossing the space to be with one another and never making eye contact. In fact, a crucial moment in the story sees them turn away from each other. We are fully invested, sooo frustrated. Devastated. I resist shouting at Rose. I blink back tears. I remember to say to Poppy after the show, “Look at what comes from not saying something out loud…” She smiles. “I know, Mum. But she didn’t know what it was she needed to say. They should have waited until she did.” Oh.

A heart wrenching acoustic rendition of Neil Finn’s Fall At Your Feet, complete with rich vocal harmonies, hits us hard and remains the pivotal moment for days afterwards, on loop in my head. This is a complex cinematic (closing credits when you finally let the tears fall) moment, immense, and yet, again, it’s so intimate, shared with just a few of us in this small dark space. It’s not often you feel an entire audience go still and stay silent for the duration of a song. There are a number of these moments in Daffodils, when time actually appears to stand still, and unwittingly (and at times, unwillingly), we become aware of our feelings.

Garth Badger’s black and white images, including aerial footage of the happy couple, roaring off into the night on Eric’s motorbike, dancing, laughing, and the footage of another happy couple celebrating their small town wedding with friends and family, bring a sense of nostalgia to what is essentially an unexpectedly affecting folk tale, full of little warnings for those of us who might feel somehow destined, in the same way, to repeat the mistakes of previous generations… 

Sometimes the sweetest, saddest, most unassuming and simply told true story is the one we’ll remember.

Daffodils to Edinburgh from Bullet Heart Club on Vimeo.

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