Review: Funeral Flowers, Bunker Theatre

Inspired by the story of businesswoman Gina Moffatt, who started up her own floristry business while in Holloway Prison, Funeral Flowers made its debut at the Edinburgh Festival last year to critical acclaim, and now arrives at London’s Bunker Theatre for a limited run.

Angelique is a 17-year-old girl who dreams of being a florist. She lives with her foster carer Sam while her mum is in prison and her dad (the “sperm donor”) is nowhere to be found, and has a boyfriend, Mickey, who would rather keep their relationship secret than admit it to his friends. When Mickey falls in with the wrong crowd and angers local gang leader Rampage, he asks Angelique to help him pay off his debts. If not, he warns her, she’ll soon be making his funeral flowers.

Written and performed by Emma Dennis-Edwards, Funeral Flowers is an absorbing, heartwrenching and powerful immersive play. From the moment the audience enters the theatre and is greeted by Minglu Wang’s beautiful flower-adorned set, they are part of the show, Angelique’s confidants. They watch her at work, confidently talking about the flowers in front of her and the meanings behind them, and selected members help her make an oasis. With thanks to innovative direction by Rachel Nwokoro, the play makes great use of the Bunker’s versatile space as Angelique later invites the audience to step into her world and accompany her to a party she’s sneaked out to, a night she’ll never forget for all the wrong reasons. While sitting on cushions on the floor and moving around the space might not be to everyone’s taste, being so close to the action makes for gripping theatre as the audience witnesses a horrific crime.

Emma Dennis-Edwards commands the stage and is utterly compelling to watch as she shows the different sides of Angelique’s character. She’s believable as the teenager, enthusiastic, innocent and bubbly when she talks about her floristry course and her dreams of the future, and funny when she mocks the audience’s attempts at flower arranging. There’s also a vulnerable side lurking underneath as she speaks about her time in the care system and later the events that transpire at the party which she’s too ashamed to admit to. She instantly draws the audience in and has them hanging onto her every word. It’s hard not to be invested in this young girl who’s been dealt a rough hand, and to hope that one day she blooms like the flowers she loves so much. Dennis-Edwards takes on a number of characters within the play, from the caring Sam to her course leader Carol, but it’s her portrayal of Mickey and his casual attitude and disregard for Angelique’s feelings which is most chilling to watch.

Dennis-Edwards has created a tight, emotional and at times poetic script about a lonely young girl who is let down by those closest to her. This show isn’t easy to watch, and it’s essential to read the trigger warnings before booking, but the dark themes are handled sensitively and maturely. Combining a powerful script, clever direction and brilliant acting, Funeral Flowers is an honest, thought-provoking and realistic play. The latest of the Bunker’s productions this season that puts women front and centre, it packs an emotional punch and certainly should not be missed.

Funeral Flowers is playing at the Bunker Theatre until 4 May 2019.

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Photo credit: Kofi Dwaah

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