When We Died
Cage – The Vaults
Reviewed – 11th March 2020
“a gripping play that deals sensitively with a difficult topic”
Rachel presents dead bodies, for what we can assume is a funeral directors, and is forced to confront her demons when faced with the body of a man who sexually assaulted her. This forms the basis of Alexandra Donnachie’s play, When We Died, exploring the aftermath of trauma and how one woman coming face to face with her attacker prompts her to tell her story.
The play begins relatively upbeat, with Rachel explaining her job and how she entertains herself by imagining the kinds of lives the people she has to embalm might have lived. The humour here is quite unexpected but actually works very well. A change of mood occurs when Rachel explains that one day she had to present a man it turns out she knows, although we’re unsure of exactly how they knew each other at this point in the play.
Throughout the play Rachel switches from providing an insight into the different stages of the embalming process (oddly fascinating!) to recounting how she met her attacker, the night he took advantage and the impact the event went on to have. Donnachie’s engaging manner makes it easy for us to retain interest in the story and feel empathy for the character she has created. You can really imagine Rachel’s place of work, flat and the people in her life thanks to Donnachie’s excellent story-telling. She also makes a good amount of eye contact with the audience, but not so much that it’s awkward.
The stage is framed by strips of neon lights on the floor and two neon poles in opposite corners, which change colour and dim at various points during the play. This is quite atmospheric but doesn’t add a great deal to a play which is fuelled by an engaging script and talented sole performer.
When We Died deals with a tricky subject, but there is no graphic detail of sexual violence. The focus is instead on the aftermath of rape and how this one character copes and comes to terms with it. Andy Routledge’s direction combined with Donnachie’s writing and acting makes for a gripping play that deals sensitively with a difficult topic. I only hope more people get to experience it beyond its short run as part of the VAULT Festival.
Reviewed by Emily K Neal
Photography by Ali Wright