October 6, 2016

Daffodils (a play with songs) has been praised to our Kiwi skies since its opening night in 2014 – “near-iconic New Zealand theatre”, “a fully-fledged wonder”, “essential viewing”,  “genius” – so the bar was set pretty high on my expectations for a good night out, tempered slightly by a cynical niggle that we’re a nostalgic bunch who’ll love anything that takes us on a trip down memory lane. An American reviewer had been fairly lukewarm about the use of loaded Kiwi classics and the lack of physical, even visual, touch (not a glance exchanged) between the two key characters. But both points are what made the night and show for me.

The integration of songs into the narrative, the narrative through the songs, is brilliant – and while, yes, having access to that aural archive already adds a substantive layer of complexity, the songs are rendered refreshingly new in this production. As one of last night’s festival goers afterwards reflected: “It makes you think about the songs differently. It makes you pay attention to the words, the kinds of stories that lie behind them.” And it’s those stories that are at the heart of this ‘modern-day cabaret’, rather than any nostalgic yearning.

Todd Emerson and Colleen Davis as the endearing Eric and Rose sustain the audience’s enthralled attention through their pitch-perfect acting and divinely human, give-it-all singing. “Incredible talent,” sighed my seating companion, “just amazing!”

I loved the fact that while their voices and stories overlap, interweave, each character in this “quintessential Kiwi love story” is positioned, side by side at two mics, in their own private universe. This underscores the poignancy of two people like two planets orbiting each other but somehow missing, glancing off rather than fully connecting. He thinks she understands him without him speaking a word; she projects onto him a different story based on history and assumption, waiting silently for him to answer to it. The tragedy is the “pointless dysfunction” of relationships locked in a pattern of withholding; the stubborn “this never happens” strategy of coping and bottled frustrations. To this end I particularly relished the grunty rendition of Blam Blam Blam’s ‘There is No Depression in New Zealand’.

While there’s no happy-ever-after resolution, the narrator’s generational position and awareness offers me an end-note of hope (we don’t have to be bound to our legacies), and in any case, the execution of the performance in all its facets is too clever and well done for the show to be anything other than strangely uplifting. The audience were radiant, or maybe that was just a trick of the light.

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