It’s not often that I leave a performance with my thoughts already fully formed. Normally, I take the time on the train ride home to let the play marinate for a while before I am ready to strip it down and build it back together again. Not so with Funeral Flowers, written and performed by Emma Dennis-Edwards. My thoughts seemed to be racing each other around my brain, putting pen to paper offered relief from the chaotic traffic jam inside my head.
Funeral Flowers tells the story of 17-year-old Angelique who dreams of becoming a florist. Her name comes from her mum who wanted her daughter to be called something that sounded a little more French. Angelique is doing well at college, she has a savings goal, £20,000 in four years, enough to set up her own floristry business.
But her mum is in prison and Angelique is living with Sam who is looking after her, which is not the same as being looked after by a real parent. Between navigating the care system and avoiding the threat from her boyfriend’s gang, will Angelique’s dreams turn out to be too big for her circumstances?
What immediately hits you when you enter the performance area is the beauty of the setting. The smell of fresh flowers hangs in the air and Minglu Wang’s design frames the play while allowing for the semi-immersive nature of the play.
Funeral Flowers is bursting with power and intense immediacy. Sitting comfortably between play and spoken word performance, neither side ever becomes too overbearing, the rhyme scheme lending itself to the fluidity of this solo performance as each line demands an answer from the next.
Dennis-Edwards gives a powerhouse of a performance, dipping into the withdrawn, abandoned and abused side of Angelique just as comfortably as she blossoms into the strong, caring young woman who is nurturing her dreams as they break through the earth around her.
Rachel Nwokoro direction gives the play a wave like energy. The moments when Angelique asks the audience to move around the stage could very easily cut the action short, but not here. Having the audience surround Angelique as everything drops into darkness and she stands there illuminated by a warm orange light both wills us into action and stuns us into silence.
James Dawson’s lighting design adds a raw power to some of the darkest moments, creating scenes which are vividly brutal. By placing the spotlight on Angelique during dark and violent scenes we can forget our surroundings and concentrate solely on Dennis-Edwards’ words, really listening to her.
Funeral Flowers does not offer a resolution, a heroic rising above the odds ending. This play is not about that. What we are witnessing is a slice of life which begins long before we gather to bear witness to it and will continue outside of our presence. Its strength lies not in giving us the ending we want, but in the honesty of showing us that some adversity might be too much to overcome.
Funeral Flowers is playing until 4 May. For more information and tickets, visit the Bunker Theatre website.