Radio NZ Drama Online, Global

15/04/2020 - 31/05/2020

COVID-19 Lockdown Festival 2020

Production Details

A history crafted by Miranda Harcourt and her husband Stuart McKenzie out of vignettes from Miranda’s own life, and from the life of her mother, Dame Kate Harcourt, and developed into a play about relationships between mothers and daughters, while presenting a family history, media history and national history in microcosm.

A sell-out success at the 1998 NZ International Festival of the Arts, Flowers from My Mother’s Garden explores genealogy, social history and family dynamics through the lens of Miranda Harcourt’s relationship with her mother Kate Harcourt.

The Hutt News at the time said – “Dame Kate Harcourt and daughter Miranda are sparkling in the biographical stage show Flowers from My Mother’s Garden.” 

Flowers From My Mother’s Garden
Broadcast 16 Jun 2013
 Listen duration54′ :15″  

Theatre , Audio (podcast) ,

55 mins

Delightfully fragrant and immeasurably cheering

Review by Terry MacTavish 16th Apr 2020

“A cup of Earl Grey tea, that’s all I want,” declares a passenger landing back in New Zealand today on the rescue flight from Peru. Like a fragrant cuppa, Flowers from My Mother’s Garden on the radio is the perfect remedy for Covid crisis: warm and familiar, redolent of companionship and family cosiness. Not perhaps a typical family – the Harcourts are one of our most glittering theatrical dynasties, Kate nationally beloved as the radio voice of Listen with Mother, while Peter Harcourt’s books on the history of New Zealand theatre and broadcasting have long been treasured resources.  

The story of Kate Harcourt and her parents, gently teased out by daughter Miranda, is the first part of a planned trilogy, with Miranda and Stuart’s marriage dissected in Biography of My Skin, and Warriors in the Kitchen at an advanced stage of development (it was to have premiered at Downstage but its sudden closure put paid to that). Verbatim Theatre in New Zealand owes much to Miranda, whose pioneering work Verbatim has become a classic, so it is no surprise that this play is elegantly crafted and gives real insight into a relationship that is at once unique, and universal. Can’t wait for budding movie star, Miranda’s daughter Thomasin McKenzie, to add her own take on her upbringing!

Appropriately Flowers begins with early memories of the radio – Kate’s family and neighbours clustered round their first set, the little girl marvelling at “voices coming out of the air” – then shifts to daughter Miranda recalling her shock and indignation when she realises that her own mother’s voice on the children’s programme is not just for her, but “a whole bunch of other kids as well!”

We hear of their childhood peccadillos, the made-up tales, or down-right lies, that got them into trouble, the family stories that have grown with time, or perhaps were never true to begin with, but still have some deeper truth to convey about the events that shaped the adults. My favourite is another ‘radio story’: a madly implausible memory of Miranda’s of her mother as a reckless heroine risking all to rescue her daughter’s new pink radio, foolishly swopped for a pencil.

We may feel that Kate was harshly treated as a child, but she laughs over the stodgy food and horrid wool swimsuits, even her father’s carelessly cruel words, choosing instead to recall the way her mother created a garden out of bleak tussock farmland. “That’s what I missed, flowers from my mother’s garden. Don’t smells take you back?” 

With actors as accomplished as these, the voices are sheer delight, Kate’s singing a pleasure (especially her comic audition song for Peter!) and Miranda’s passage of incredibly fast, perfectly articulated patter describing her youthful misdemeanours is a vocal master-class in itself. Together they transform into an absurd melodrama the (possible) history of Kate’s forebears as convicts deported to Australia, over-acting with exuberant gusto: “Never darken my door again!!”

The thread that runs through is the dawning recognition that we cannot see our family, especially parents, solely in terms of their relationship to us. It comes as a revelation to Miranda when her father says, “We’re not just here for you – we’ve got our own lives too.” But there is none of the terse edginess, even anger, that I recall in Biography of My Skin, perhaps because Kate and Miranda have had a lifetime to reach a comfortable, loving acceptance of each other.

Incarceration is the right time for reflection, not simply on who you are, but why you are who you are, what you have done with your life, and how it fits the pattern of what your ancestors have done. This heart-warming play, with its proficient technical support, is therefore surely a wise choice by Radio NZ National.

Flowers from My Mother’s Garden may even inspire listeners to start writing their own memoirs, tracing their family stories and cross-questioning (via phone or Zoom of course) their older relatives. I am myself absorbed in my father’s war diaries and marvelling at the ease with which Google shows me where he wrote them, during his own incarceration in a military hospital in India, 1945.

Kate’s memories include the boys she knew who fell in that war, and the death of her beloved husband, but her resilience and courage are ultimately uplifting, and you are more than likely to find you have been chuckling for nearly an hour, your final entrancing image that of a pink hippo dancing. 

So pour a cup of the comforting brew that cheers but does not inebriate, snuggle up with or without bubble buddies (yes, a fluffy dressing gown counts) and be, if not intoxicated, certainly immeasurably cheered by this delightfully fragrant offering.  

Listen here

Review of the stage premiere of Flowers from My Mother’s Garden.


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