When We Died presented by Alexandra Donnachie
What is it?
A macabre telling of the encounter between a woman and the man who assaulted her. But it turns out he is dead, and she’s is the person to embalm his body.
What is it about?
This one-woman story takes us through, step by step, every gruesome yet fascinating detail of embalming; from gluing the eyes shut to pumping a carefully balanced chemical solution through the body. Intertwined is also the events of how the man she’s working on came to assault her. When dealing with a body, the character Rachel explains, it is normally a poignant, intimate and strangely beautiful moment, often piecing together clues to build a full image of who the person was in life, to give them the most respectful last moments on earth as possible. However, this time there’s fear, anger and a need to unload and expose his true colours to someone, to his wife, her family, and in making a decision to do so, the moral implications are revealed.
How did it make me feel?
Uneasy. Going into the show knowing the brief doesn’t necessarily prepare you for a bizarre combination of talking about a dead body and a sexual assault. Steadily growing more and more uneasy as the story progresses to that inevitable event. Predominantly I’m angry for her, as discussed in the play, that one action can destroy a lifetime of relationships; one brief moment can undo 10 years of building love and connection with someone. It wasn’t her mistake, it’s not in her power to change anything. The piece is delivered delicately and poignantly by Alexandra Donnachie, who also wrote the show. A mammoth story to undertake with the focus being on the experience around it, of party angst and work routines compared to the unravel of her mental state, all heightened with a bare stage other than LED lighting surrounding her, giving a clinical feel of her workplace but also a useful tool for the performer. There is also abstract movement to symbolise events rather than sharing explicit descriptions of the assault, and is a stunning way to represent this story.
I commend the work that Carbon Theatre have put towards protecting their co-workers and audience members in the dealing of this potentially triggering subject matter. By booking a quiet room afterwards for anyone who needs it and for their work hand in hand with relevant organisations that aid sexual assault survivors they are taking necessary precautions and giving necessary support. It’s an extremely important aspect of making theatre of this nature.
When We Died played in the Cage, VAULT Festival, until the 15th March 2020.
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