• Mon. Apr 22nd, 2024

Fringe 2023: When We Died

ByOlivia Fischer

Aug 25, 2023
Alexandra Donnachie

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Plays exploring themes of sexual violence against women are becoming increasingly common, especially on the one woman show circuit over Edinburgh Fringe. This fact is both a blessing a curse: its uplifting that so many women are finding strength in their stories of survival and there is bravery in providing spaces for others who have experienced the same experience, but there are just SO. MANY. WOMEN. Writer and performer of When We Died, Alexandra Donnachie, articulates this perfectly, “I feel incredibly conflicted between being thrilled it is still relevant for the sake of getting to perform it again, but also mortified that its story hasn’t yet become dated.” The trap that many performers fall into when performing work on this subject, is that the work itself feels unsafe for either the performer, or the audience, or both. In Carbon Theatre’s production, it is the complete opposite. Gentle in her delivery, Donnachie feels entirely in control and holds the audience delicately in her hands. 

The story itself feels like the twisting of a knife in your stomach. A young mortician whose personal life has slowly been falling apart is forced to face him, but not in the way you would expect. He’s dead, lying on her table and she is now responsible for his embalming. The assumed care with which she handles his body during this fictionalised process of embalming is in direct contrast to the violence he perpetrated against her own. It feels as if the audience is sitting on pinpricks as something slightly sinister bubbles just below the surface throughout. But even the handling of the rape itself is done gently and thoughtfully, with particular interest in caring for the audience and others who might have had a similar experience.

This is what makes this one woman show particularly powerful. It does not solely revolve around the traumatic event of sexual violence, but rather focuses on a life that can be rebuilt when women are given space and time to heal. When many plays on this subject tend to exploit the trauma to generate shock, this one tries to offer a message of hope and kindness. It is not a story about forgiving the ones who have wronged us, but rather remind us that there is power in surviving, there is worth in our stories, and there is hope after desolation. 

When We Died is on at Summerhall, the Anatomy Lecture Theatre, through to August 27, at 19.40. Tickets available here.

Image courtsey of Carbon Theatre, provided to The Student as press material.