Everyone, I suppose, has a story to tell, even if not everyone necessarily has the confidence of Angelique (Emma Dennis-Edwards) to tell it. Hers is set against a disadvantaged background – her mother served a long custodial sentence (I couldn’t determine what for) and her father was simply never around. This left Angelique in the hands of the social care network – or, at the risk of making a political point of sorts, the ‘social care industry’, as it is probably better termed these days. Her care home experiences, although not exactly great, are less bad than the difficulties encountered by friends and acquaintances of mine who went through the care system themselves.
There isn’t a funeral to speak of in Funeral Flowers, but at the same time, this does not necessarily translate into a happy ending for Angelique – or does it? The ending is open-ended, to say the least: although Angelique has been through a lot and has an uphill struggle ahead to realise her (relatively modest) ambitions, the thought crosses her mind that she could actually turn out to be rather like her own mother than someone who – to be blunt – makes more of a success of her life than either of her parents.
Delivered largely in what (some) sociologists call ‘MLE’ – Multicultural London English – ‘boring’ gives way to ‘dead’, ‘mad’ really means ‘amazing’ rather than ‘insane’, and so on – the performance is skilful enough to grasp the gist of what is being said, whatever one’s knowledge of the regional vocabulary. Or to put it another way, the monologue (for that is what it is) is bare bait, innit. The show starts off incredibly happy: whatever problems exist are fundamentally of a first-world order, and there more than enough on-stage flowers – real ones, mind you – to make an actual arrangement or two. It is only a matter of time before the story becomes darker.
The flower arranging comes about as a result of Angelique taking a course in floristry, and flowers appear to be a near-constant source of happiness for her. Commensurate with many single-performer productions, Dennis-Edwards successfully voices and brings to life several other characters, including Angelique’s mother, teacher, boyfriend, social worker and carer. But as every event, from critical incident to entering a room, is told from Angelique’s point of view, the audience only hears one perspective. The overarching aim here, of course, is to provide a voice to the sort of character that is often overlooked in stories about the issues affecting contemporary society.
Interesting (for me, anyway) is the complete lack of involvement of the police or social services or any other third party in the aftermath of a crime against the person. Why this was isn’t explored, and while there may be many valid reasons not to get the authorities involved in what in some ways was a delicate and complex situation, it still felt as though Angelique was somehow letting the crime’s perpetrators continue in freedom whilst her own mother remains incarcerated.
The production uses the available performance space well, taking over parts of the theatre that would usually be used for audience seating, thus somewhat reducing the overall capacity. But when the audience is invited to sit on the floor of the stage to provide an immersive experience, it doesn’t add much to the show in the end. As Angelique changes position, so must the audience – had a more traditional seating arrangement been adopted, everyone would have been able to see everything well without having to shift about or even, in some cases, walk from one part of the theatre to another to gain a better vantage point.
It’s a good idea in principle to venture away from being sat in rows as people do in church or in a conference, but with a fairly sizeable audience in the Bunker, this needs further thought in this instance. The play would have benefited from a more longitudinal approach – does Angelique realise her ambitions? Instead, it ends abruptly, as though it has reached the interval rather than the curtain call. But there are some powerful moments in this well-performed and thought-provoking piece of theatre.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Through lyrical spoken word and an inspiring floristry demonstration, Funeral Flowers takes audiences on an immersive journey into the world of seventeen-year-old Angelique, who dreams of being a florist. Left alone to navigate the care system, adulthood, and the recurring threat of her boyfriend’s gang, Angelique takes us by the hand and leads us through her story, through spaces filled with flowers.
Set in Tottenham, North London, the show playfully switches between six characters to highlight the reality of many vulnerable young women, and young black women in particular, who are left to grow up in the British care system. As a series of life-changing events force Angelique out of her home, she must question what the future holds and if she can break free from her surroundings and forge a new path. Is it really possible to be able to escape the cycle you’ve been bound by your whole life?
Writer/Performer Emma Dennis-Edwards
Director Rachel Nwokoro
Associate Director Sophia Compton
Producer Harts Theatre
Stage Managers Anna Sheard and Rike Berg
Set Designer Minglu Wang
Lighting Designer James Dawson
The Bunker, 53A Southwark Street London SE1 1RU
Monday 15th April – Saturday 4th May 2019
Press Night: Wednesday 17th April, 7:30pm