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Stranger than Fiction: Playwright Rochelle Bright on the Family Secrets Behind Daffodils

Stranger than Fiction: Playwright Rochelle Bright on the Family Secrets Behind Daffodils

Rochelle Bright spent six years living in New York after winning a place to study music and theatre at New York University. She returned because she wanted to tell New Zealand stories and none cut more close to home than her own parents’ tale of falling in love in Hamilton in the 60s.

The cabaret Daffodils, at Q this month, is their tale of love, death and betrayal — mostly. Some details of the exceptional story have been changed, but probably not the ones you’d expect. Daffodils taps into family mythology. The lies we let ourselves believe. “Truth is stranger than fiction and the few people we’ve told what’s true and not true have been shocked,” says Bright, pictured here with her mother’s wedding dress. She mined their old love letters for the script, and Super 8 footage of her parents’ wedding gets an airing in the show.

Well versed in the flashy, jazz-hands cabaret of the American theatre scene, when Bright came to write her own version she wanted to take the elements of cabaret — a spotlight, a microphone and a performer conversing straight to the audience through song — and give it a New Zealand interpretation. Jazz hands don’t gel with a no-nonsense farming girl and stoic teddy boy.

So Daffodils features songs chiselled into New Zealanders’ cultural conscience by bands such as Crowded House, the Mint Chicks and the Mutton Birds. Bright selected the songs for their emotional fit with her parents’ love story and enlisted Stephanie Brown (aka Lips, the Silver Scroll-winning musican based in Brooklyn) to weave them together. Brown has given the classic Kiwi anthems an indie, electronic makeover while retaining the emotional hit that makes them so enduring. The result is both beautifully nostalgic and heart-scrapingly raw. “The reason I got into this field is I think song is the most powerful thing,” says Bright.

Read more:
“It should play all over the country. It should play all over the world.” – Reviewer Simon Wilson’s falls hard for Daffodils.

Photo by Garth Badger.

Theatre