A FRIENDSHIP REGENERATED LIKE A GARDEN IN SPRING
Written by Geraldine Brophy
Song book adapted by Jane Keller
with assistance from Michael Nicholas Williams
Directed by Emma Kinane
at Circa Two, Wellington
From 4 Apr 2012 to 28 Apr 2012
[1hr 30min, including interval]
Reviewed by Jo Hodgson, 6 Apr 2012
“This is what happens, see…”
When three highly-accomplished artists from varied theatrical and musical disciplines come together, what happens is truly beautiful.
Floral Notes is a delightfully woven musical story of two pen pals, Iris and Rosemary, who lose contact in their late teens but (luckily) due to a meddling daughter find each other again some 40 years later. Through email their friendship is rekindled and, although there is initial resistance (by Iris particularly) to remembering the past, the challenges, joys and pains of their lives are shared and each woman becomes the richer for it.
The beautifully written script by Geraldine Brophy is filled with pathos and humour and is wonderfully realised in the two different characters of Iris (Jane Keller) and Rosemary (Geraldine Brophy).
Rosemary, a widow living on land in the Hawkes Bay, where she grows hazelnuts and micro greens for the commercial market, is a warm, instantly likeable, earthy eccentric and appears to have the ideal life. Iris, a successful art director, also a widow (and divorcee), living in New York is brash, sarcastic and in control. (“If you can pay the dog, why bark yourself?”)
Iris seems to have everything: money, great career… but her only place of refuge from her ‘Orderly World' (by Alan Menken) is her roof, which, over the course of the play, is transformed into a floral art exhibition with Rosemary's help from the other side of the world. (‘Two Sides of a River' by Tom Jones and Joseph Thalken)
As the friends reconnect, they share not only the past and the events that led to their loss of contact, but also who they are now. Through gorgeous descriptive word painting, each can ‘see' what the other's life is like, and Rosemary cleverly uses the meanings of flowers in her garden as metaphors which innocently trigger responses from Iris, leading to her softening and opening up.
As this happens, we warm to her more and see her vulnerability, especially as past tragic events come to light. Jane sings 'Lullaby in Blue' by Adam Cohen and Patrick Brock with beautiful tenderness. Another favourite moment is Geraldine's firstly comic rendition of 'There are Fairies at the bottom of the Garden' (Rose Fyleman and Liza Lehmann) but then later in a reprise of this song we are moved with the poignant simplicity.
The songs (most were unknown to us) for these two contrasting contraltos have been chosen with great care and fit like a glove. They are integrated so seamlessly we wonder if the script has been moulded around the songs or the songs around the script. (It turns out the songs came after the script.)
The very talented Michael Nicholas Williams accompanies on piano. It's lovely that we can see him: although not an actual character, he is very much part of the storytelling: not only accompanying the songs but providing a backdrop of music which adds to the emotion of the piece. He is totally unobtrusive but always supportive.
This cast, with director Emma Kinane, must have had a wonderful time working on this script, and although there are uncomfortable and sad topics within the play, they are delivered with the right amount of subtlety and sensitivity to allow the audience to join the dots.
The whole narrative has an organic and very natural flow, growing like the gardens portrayed, complete with the unwanted weeds and root-bound grasses becoming vivid metaphors for challenges these two women face. (“Why do we need to leave [New York]? The world comes to us!”)
The set (Ross Joblin) and lighting (Glen Ashworth) are minimal and nicely understated, leaving the viewer to imagine and believe the 14,000 km distance between Iris and Rosemary.
The incredibly experienced Jane Keller and Geraldine Brophy bring their own particular set of skills and training to this play (the former as a highly accomplished singer of various musical styles, the latter as a renowned stage actor) and each ventures into the other's world with great success. Both women are utterly convincing in taking true ownership of their characters and their voices.
Floral Notes affirms the importance of friendship and it is especially beautiful to watch Iris and Rosemary's relationship regenerating like a garden in Spring.
Take your tissues and your best friend.
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