Traverse Theatre (Venue 15)
4-28 Aug, not Mondays
This is the story of playwright Rochelle Bright’s parents – “everything you’re about to hear is true – except for…”
Eric is rather drunk and driving himself home in a rainstorm when he suddenly sees a girl dressed in red dancing in a host of golden daffodils: she too is drunk and has no way of getting home. Being a gentleman at heart, he drives her home, although it’s a two-hour drive out of his way, and thus Eric and Rose’s relationship begins. He is eighteen and she only sixteen, and they are very different from each other – but this doesn’t stop them marrying. At their wedding Eric’s father tells the story of how he met his own wife at the very same daffodil-filled lakeside spot: it all seems so romantic, but the reality is slowly disclosed as something else again.
Clever use of projection illustrates both couples’ romances and young Eric’s trip round the world, which was planned to last for around two years, but is curtailed as the couple’s romance develops. Eric can’t find a job on his return to New Zealand: this forces him to work with his father in his night-time cleaning business, and precipitates the whole sorry tale. Gradually secrets and lies are revealed, some told directly to us by Eric, others revealed by Rose who learns of them at family gatherings – which is how Rose’s daughter finds out the bones of her parents’ story, years after their deaths. The fairy-tale nature of father’s story conceals the truth of his behaviour afterwards: it’s a symbol of all the other lies on which his life and, ultimately, his son’s life, is based.
This play starts out so blissfully happy, and ends so desolately… My heart aches for Rose and Eric: the cruelty of the concealment that precipitates the unraveling of their lives, ‘because Eric’s mother mustn’t be hurt’: the inveigling of Eric into concealing his father’s behavior from the time he was still in school – a habit he is unable to break, even though he loses his wife because of it. Oh the damage caused by lack of communication, the need to ‘keep up appearances’, to conform to the expected norm; the gradual erection of the barriers, the strangling tissue of lies that is slowly woven until the truth can’t be told: I was desperately hoping, right to the end, that Eric and Rose would realise/ speak out/ sort it out…
The music is integral to the show, illustrating and at times screaming out the emotions: all the songs are an iconic part of NZ culture, but unknown to me. Eric – Todd Emerson – is totally mesmerising as a singer, using the songs to say the things he’s incapable of saying to Rose face-to-face, though he can write eloquently enough in his letters to her from his round the world trip before they were married. Colleen Davis as Rose is also a powerfully emotive singer, pouring out her heart, her hopes, and her pain. Both actors not only visibly age and change through their own stories, but also become their parents at various points. The three-piece band are an integral part of the story, adding backing vocals as well as varied instrumental support, and playing their own parts in the action.
The clever staging – carpet strips along which Eric and Rose move into the spotlights, towards their mikes, retiring backwards into the shadows when one or other character is by themselves on stage – underlines the double-sided nature of their relationship: so much unspoken, so much concealed in the shadows, causing so much pain.
The audience rightly thought the performance worthy of prolonged and enthusiastic applause. Another palpable hit from the Traverse this Fringe!