Interview with Emma Dennis-Edwards

Following rave reviews at the Edinburgh Festival, Funeral Flowers arrives at the Bunker Theatre later this month. I spoke with writer and performer Emma Dennis-Edwards to find out more about the inspiration behind her latest play.

How did you first get into the arts?
My Mum has always worked full time; therefore I went to a lot of after school clubs when I was at primary school. I started to go to Anna Scher after school because it was near my primary school and at the time, my Mum worked for Islington Council so it was on her way home from work. I would say Anna Scher’s was my first foray into acting, I really enjoyed it and I greatly admired Anna Scher. I never considered acting or writing as a career until much later on, I’d decided to go to the BRIT school when I was doing my GCSE’s at secondary school. I was interested in studying drama but at that stage I still didn’t see it as a career. My teachers at BRIT School were so amazing and supportive and really encouraged me to apply to drama school and helped me every step of the way. They really encouraged me and still do and if it wasn’t for BRIT school, I wouldn’t have a career so I’m very grateful to them!

Can you tell me what Funeral Flowers is about?
Funeral Flowers is the story of Angelique. Angelique is 17 years old and dreams of being florist. It’s a coming of age story, but Angelique is having a trickier time growing up then most. Angelique is a looked after child, living with a foster carer as her Mum is in prison. Isolated, Angelique turns to her boyfriend Mickey who is part of a gang. When Mickey finds himself in debt to the head of his gang (Rampage) he wants Angelique to help him by performing sexual favours on Rampage to get himself out of trouble. Funeral Flowers is about Angelique finding a way to survive through a difficult and traumatic adolescence and follow her dreams.

What prompted you to write it?
Funeral flowers began as a ten-minute play, which was commissioned by the Royal Court for their Tottenham festival. Every writer was paired with a community and I was paired with an amazing businesswoman Gina Moffatt, who had started her own floristry business while residing at HMP Holloway. Gina was keen that the play should in somehow show other young women that they should not to go down a path that could lead to prison and we spoke about her experiences at length. It was an amazing conversation. She was such a source of light and hope that I desperately wanted to capture some of that energy in the play and from that the character of Angelique was born. The other characters (which I also play) came later on.

How has the show developed since its run at the Edinburgh Festival?
Funeral Flowers was performed in a flat in Edinburgh, so it feels like a different show in our theatre spaces. In Edinburgh it had a very intimate feel and I hope we’ve managed to keep that spirit, but the design is artistically really interesting and less domestic then when it was a site-specific show. It’s the first time that Funeral Flowers has been performed in a traditional “theatre” space (although we are keeping the promenade element that we had in Edinburgh), when it was part of the Tottenham festival it was performed in shipping container so it’s come a long way!

What inspires you as a writer?
People! I often find myself getting much more excited by characters and conversations and need to pull myself out to see the bigger story picture, but that’s what directors and dramaturgs are for right!? I am fascinated by human behaviour, especially teenagers. Most of my writing features a teenager as I really enjoy exploring wider political and social issues through the eyes of teenagers. I feel that they have such an interesting lens. I wish more teenagers wrote plays, I think season announcements would probably be a bit more exciting.

What can audiences expect from the show?
I think the audience can expect to me a range of characters who are all trying to make the best of what they can. I think you’ll see a play that feels very of its time, that is talking about what it is to be a girl in 2019 and although Angelique’s experiences are particularly harrowing, she still exemplifies a lot of the thoughts and feelings we’ve all had growing up. Feelings of isolation, loss, heartbreak and trauma, she’s figuring it out just like the audiences she’s sharing her story with.

What would you like the play to achieve?
Hmmmm, that’s a tricky one. I guess I am starting a conversation with Funeral Flowers so maybe I want to continue that conversation. I think the provocation that I’m proposing is one that has been echoed Chris Sonnex’s quite simply astonishing season and it’s a look at what it is to be female, working class and trying to find a way through difficult circumstances that may not necessarily be through your own making. I hope that people continue that conversation and maybe look outside their own experiences and social status. I hope it will also inspire other people to tell their stories; we need more voices in this theatre world. Teenagers, retired people, black folks, single mums, trans/non binary people should be writing plays and should see themselves on stage. I hope Funeral Flowers inspires more people to get their voices heard, that would be amazing.

Funeral Flowers is playing at the Bunker Theatre from 15 April – 4 May.

Photo credit: Max Hayter

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