Daffodils (A Play With Songs)

Theatre, Drama
3 out of 5 stars
Daffodils, Traverse
© Sally Jubb

Kick-ass New Zealand pop songs enliven this uneven autobiographical musical

The first ten minutes or so of this New Zealand play-with-songs are so terrifyingly twee I started fretting that I’d not packed a sick bag. But the saccharine facade of ‘Daffodils’ doesn’t last long, as it reveals itself to be a rather more complicated – albeit still imperfect – beast.

There is a band set up in the centre of the stage, and keyboardist Stephanie Brown announces that ‘Daffodils’ is the story of how her parents met (in fact this a bit of artifice – she’s a stand-in for Rochelle Bright, the playwright).

Two actors walk on – Todd Emerson and Colleen Davis, who play Bright’s father Eric and mother Rose. The story of how they met is cute: Eric gave Rose a ride home after he found her drunk in the same patch of daffodils that his father had met his mother in. He goes off backpacking, but misses her, and ends up sacking off the bulk of the trip in order to come home and propose. Eew, right?

Well not exactly: things do not work out as they might for the couple, or Eric’s parents. I guess the point of the piece is a bittersweet meditation on how life isn’t a fairytale and even a cute piece of family mythmaking like the daffodil patch can’t shield them from reality. But there’s a maddening plot twist in the second half that’s so outlandish as to throw the whole thing off kilter. Bright admits the story is not 100% true, but it feel like Bright has performed a botch job in trying to simplify events that were obviously complicated and painful to her.

Still, what ‘Daffodils’ really does have going for it is the songs, performed by the two actors. They're Kiwi pop hits that – with the exception of the inevitable Crowded House number – are unheard of over here. Period appropriate to the story as it advances, the Merseybeat-ish early numbers are a snapshot into a parallel musical universe, while ‘No Depression in New Zealand’ by Blam Blam Blam is a wry, righteous post-punk classic that goes some way to compensating for the story’s unevenness.