Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Review: 'Funeral Flowers' at The Bunker, 30th April 2019

Reviewed by David James
Rating: 4 Stars

Flowers can feel like the 'default' gift: the object we choose to communicate emotions that cannot be easily summarised. Writer/star Emma Dennis-Edwards' Funeral Flowers understands this, presenting us with a florist, a stage strewn with flowers and a window into a life whose particulars are as impermanent and fleeting as a bouquet.

Set in contemporary London, the play follows a couple of months in the life of Angelique. From the off, we see that the cards are stacked against her. Her mother is currently in jail, she's at the mercy of social services, her self-esteem is dangerously low and she has a boyfriend who from minute one sounds like very bad news. She is currently at college studying floristry with ambitions of one day opening her own shop / he is a small-time drug dealer in thrall to a supplier ominously known only as 'Rampage'.

What follows are events that, sadly, have a weight of inevitability to them. Angelique's ambitions and talents are ground under the leaden footfalls of the men in her life, who casually and unthinkingly objectify, use and discard her. Lacking any support system she can relate to, she cannot deal with her situation and we sense that she's at the beginning of a long downward spiral.

Funeral Flowers is upfront that it's going to head to some depressing territory, with the play warning potential audiences that it contains "scenes of sexual violence which may be triggering to survivors of sexual assault" and that the production is happy for audience members to leave and return if they feel it's getting too much for them. I've got to admit, after reading that I had steeled myself for a truly brutal hour of theatre.

But though Dennis-Edwards refuses to pull any of her punches and doesn't shy away from distressing plot developments, Funeral Flowers isn't gratuitously shocking. That's largely down to Angelique being such a well-drawn, personable and engaging character. Though she goes through some very dark times, it's moving to see her light up as she confidently holds court on the origins of tulips or how sunflowers are seriously underrated.

The core metaphor of the show compares her with a flower, with the monologue repeatedly touching on fading innocence that, like a wilting bloom, cannot ever be returned to its full glory. But in though her story is a sad one, there are glimmers of hope: the daily renewal of hands-on floristry indicating that Angelique can cope with the miseries she's suffered and move forward. The play ends on a very ambiguous note, but this central motif of renewal through natural beauty provides a ray of light.

In addition, the play's power is amplified by some smart staging by director Rachel Nwokoro. In the opening moments Dennis-Edwards' leans conspiratorially over the railing separating the audience from the stage, gently breaking down the barrier between us. Before too long we're encouraged to leave our seats and join her in the performance stage for some low-key but effective promenade staging. Placing us in such close proximity to her both helps us to identify with her and subtly makes us feel culpable for her plight.

We're left with an uneasy sense that this country simply doesn't give a shit about people like Angelique. Draconian drug laws encourage criminal enterprises that suck even those peripherally involved into a black hole of violence and objectification, and once they're broken the government has no interest in assembling the pieces. The more we learn about Angelique's family life the more we see a vicious cycle of abandonment, incarceration, stigmatism and the requirement to become emotionally numb in order to cope. 

It makes for a great piece of drama: sensitively and charismatically performed, carefully written and smartly staged. Funeral Flowers might not be the most cheery night out in the theatre but though it's rooted in sad soil, what blossoms is far from miserable.

Funeral Flowers is at The Bunker Theatre until 4th May. Tickets here.

Tags: , , , ,

0 Responses to “Review: 'Funeral Flowers' at The Bunker, 30th April 2019”

Post a Comment

© All articles copyright LONDON CITY NIGHTS.
Designed by SpicyTricks, modified by LondonCityNights