It’s 1964 and Eric (Todd Emerson) is living a pretty carefree existence until he nearly runs Rose (Colleen Davis) over one night in his car. She is drunk and meandering in a patch of daffodils by a lake—the same location Eric’s parents met each other many years before. He rescues her and delivers her back to her family farmhouse. She’s 16. He’s 18. After a few dates, he breaks the news that he’s headed abroad for a while but through love letters back and forth they fall for each other. However, relationships are not just about young love; it’s all the work that comes after.
To call Daffodils ‘a play with songs’ feels like a tremendous cheat with something that is as music-heavy as this show is. Designed with a gig vibe in mind, the entire staging involves Eric and Rose standing at microphones on either side of the stage with a band (Stephanie Brown, Fen Ikner, Abraham Kunin) at the back. They speak and sing to each other through those mics all the while only facing the audience. Their segregation becomes one of the more baffling aspects of the production. It seems counterintuitive to have a love story where people don’t touch or even catch a glance at the other.
There are dramaturgical and directing choices underlying this format but the reasons to isolate the love-struck couple are quickly outweighed by those begging for these characters to connect. Davis and Emerson offer tender performances but our emotional investment is eclipsed by our inability to experience Eric and Rose together. There is home movie footage of Bright’s parents on their wedding day projected above the actors and pre-recorded video scenes of the fictional couple together (often shot from above). But that atmospheric element is not quite enough.
Coupling the physical staging with the overreliance on established songs further distances us from Eric and Rose. The songs (gorgeously remixed with soaring vocals and a strong bass line by LIPS and Abraham Kunin) may be full of longing and reflect emotions that may be apt but they are not purpose-built for the show. Despite being some of the most popular New Zealand pop songs (featuring music by Crowded House, The Mint Chicks, The Mutton Birds, Th’Dudes), for this critic, they were all entirely new (sorry New Zealand). Any pre-packaged nostalgia or history that these songs hold for a local audience did not necessarily carry forward for me. Moreover, our desire to know or understand these characters through their unique voices got lost in songs that were not crafted for them.