New Zealand playwright Rochelle Bright uses her own parents’ story to examine the eternal themes of love and loss in a new work at the Traverse.
Because her father died when she was young, Rochelle Bright says, she always wanted to hear stories about him. Now, though, it’s she who is sharing the stories with us. Her new play, Daffodils, which is making its Fringe debut after hugely successful tours of New Zealand and Australia, recounts the story of her father and mother, and how they met – as her paternal grandparents had done – on the same patch of daffodils.
“My dad died 22 years ago, when I was 14,” says Bright. “I was pretty close to him. But there’s something about losing a parent before you really know them as a human being; and, as I got older, I wanted to find out who he was. I always knew I’d tell that story one day.”
Daffodils, which is described as a ‘play with songs’, tells the story of Eric and Rose from the moment they met on the daffodil patch. The two characters see events from their own, rather different, points of view, with the emotion of the piece carried by popular songs of the era – “New Zealand’s greatest hits,” says Bright.
The set is illustrated with family photographs and the script includes a section taken from Bright’s father’s diary when he left Rose to take his big trip to Europe – a rite of passage known by New Zealanders as the OE – the Overseas Experience.
“There is something amazing about the photos from that time,” she says. “My dad was quite a good-looking guy. Mum gave me all the letters he wrote to her. That was special, reading them and finding out what interested him.”
The early sections of the story have a dream-like quality, wrapped up in the ’60s iconography of teenage romance, but as the story progresses it integrates incidents that Bright remembers from her childhood.
The double-sided narrative builds dramatic tension; small miscommunications become earth-shattering events, while the song cycle evokes the unexpressed feelings running below the surface.
“I have a lot of love for both of them, but they’re human – they’re not perfect,” reflects Bright. “They were very ordinary. But I see what happened to them as quite extraordinary. It affected my life a lot.”
When Bullet Heart Club, the theatre company she founded with Kitan Petkovski, were performing their pre-Edinburgh fundraising shows in New Zealand, they attracted huge crowds. And in a preview performance in England, Bright spotted a couple of Kiwis in the audience “singing along to all the words”.
Bullet Heart Club have the full blessing of the songwriters, who include Neil Finn of Crowded House. Don McGlashan, whose song ‘Anchor Me’ comes at a pivotal point in the play, was blown away by their version. “He says that song is much deeper than he thought.”
Bright’s family, too, have been supportive of her wish to turn their family story into theatre. Her mum and sister will come to Edinburgh to see it. “I came to the Fringe in 2010 and saw a show at the Traverse and I can’t believe that six years later my mum will be here to see a show about her life. It’s such a dream.”
Words: Claire Smith
Picture: Garth Badger
Daffodils (A Play With Songs) Traverse Theatre, 4–28 August (not 5, 8, 15, 22), times vary