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Actor and writer Emma Dennis-Edwards: ‘Your value is not based on your work’

Emma Dennis-Edwards

Emma Dennis-Edwards’ one-woman show Funeral Flowers began life as a community project with London’s Royal Court, before transferring to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, where it won two awards. Preparing to open for a run at London’s Bunker Theatre, Dennis-Edwards tells Giverny Masso about the play’s journey…

Tell me about Funeral Flowers…
It is the story of a 17-year-old girl called Angelique who dreams of being a florist. But her mum is in prison so she’s growing up in the foster care system and she’s got a boyfriend who’s in a gang. I didn’t write this with the intention of performing it. It began as a short play as part of the Royal Court Tottenham Festival, with another actor doing it – who was fabulous. I then got asked to be part of a showcase at the National Theatre for BAME artists and because it was unpaid I didn’t want to ask the original actor. I thought: ‘It’s fine, I’m an actor’, so it was an accident that I did it.

What was the original inspiration behind the show?
Chris Sonnex, who is now artistic director at the Bunker Theatre, and Hamish Pirie [1] at the Royal Court approached me about writing a 10-minute show. It was going to be a show for the local community, based on their experiences. Every writer in the project was paired with a member of the community to create a play based around something they were both interested in. I was paired with [community leader and businesswoman] Gina Moffatt – she’s a legend. She runs a West Indian cafe and she started a floristry business while in prison. She was keen to create a character whose mum is in prison.

What was it like taking the show to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe?
I’d been to Edinburgh before and I had been in a show at the Traverse, which is like Edinburgh’s Royal Court. This time, taking Funeral Flowers to Edinburgh in a co-production with Power Play, we had a much smaller budget and I was staying in a flat in Leith, so it was a different experience. The show won a Fringe First and the Filipa Bragança Award, it was incredible and it was a surprise because we only had capacity for 18 people.

How did you get into theatre?
I wanted to be a weather girl so I studied geography and drama. I came to acting quite late, but I’ve always written books and told stories. I’m currently adapting Funeral Flowers into a book. I went to Brit School for sixth form, and I had such a great time. It’s a super diverse school in terms of ethnic and economic backgrounds.

What inspired you to start writing?
A lot of crap auditions. There was a period when I was auditioning when all the roles available were strippers – nearly all written by men. I thought: ‘Is there a way we can have more strong female characters? Can I write them myself? It can’t be that hard.’

What is your advice to emerging artists?
Your value is not based on your work. Develop yourself as a human, family member and friend, and develop what interests you. All of that stuff should be equal to your job. You’re still valuable.

CV Emma Dennis-Edwards

Training: Brit School (2004-06); BA Acting at East 15 (2006-09)
First professional role: Actor in Ma Kelly’s Doorstep with Attic Theatre Company (2010)
Agent: Kat Buckle at Curtis Brown (writing) and Polly Andrews at Polly’s Agency (Acting)

Funeral Flowers runs at London’s Bunker Theatre from April 15-May 4. For more information go to: bunkertheatre.com/whats-on [2]