Reviews EdinburghNationalReviews Published 17 August 2016

Review: Daffodils [A Play With Songs] at Traverse

Traverse ⋄ Until 28th August 2016

When Eric met Rose: Nicole Serratore reviews a nostalgia-driven play with songs that’s more songs than play.

Nicole Serratore

Daffodils [A Play With Songs] at Traverse, Edinburgh. Photo: Sally Jubb.

Daffodils [A Play With Songs] at Traverse, Edinburgh. Photo: Sally Jubb.

Daffodils [A Play with Songs] is a nostalgia-laden trip down someone else’s memory lane. Following the somewhat true love story of playwright Rochelle Bright’s parents, like most real-life relationships, it ends up far from where it started. But rather than tell a simple meet-cute, Bright relies on music and song to express the feelings and unspoken thoughts of her characters. Using classic New Zealand pop and rock music of the 80’s and 90’s, the show operates in some manner like a jukebox musical. But as is often the case with that genre, pre-existing music does not always provide enough narrative specificity to build an effective dramatic world. There is a bittersweet tale to be told here but unfortunately the format and style actively work to undermine the storytelling.

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.

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Nicole Serratore

Nicole Serratore writes about theater for The Village Voice, The Stage, American Theatre magazine, TDF Stages, and Flavorpill. She was a co-host and co-producer of the Maxamoo theater podcast. She blogs at Mildly Bitter's Musings.

Review: Daffodils [A Play With Songs] at Traverse Show Info


Directed by Dena Kennedy & Kitan Petkovski

Written by Rochelle Bright

Cast includes Colleen Davis, Todd Emerson, Stephanie Brown, Fen Ikner, Abraham Kunin

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