Vault Festival: When We Died


Cage at The Vaults, Leake Street Tunnels, Waterloo.


10-15 Mar, 6.10pm. Running time 1 hr.


Written and performed by Alexandra Donnachie. Directed by Andy Routledge, produced by Carbon Theatre and Courtenay Johnson.


“Faced with the body of the man who raped her eleven months ago, When We Died is a striking new play about one woman’s choice to confront her trauma and tell her story, on her terms”.

Alexandra Donnachie is When We Died
Alexandra Donnachie is When We Died. Image by Ali Wright.


Donnachie’s monologue moves back and forward from matter of fact discussion of an embalmer’s work to flashbacks to two meetings with the man who is now dead before her, a naked body she needs to make ready for his wife to see.

There is no autobiographical element to this show: rather, it is the culmination of four years of development working with a sexual assault referral centre, a forensic psychologist, and a movement director (Christina Fulcher, who creates a set of shapes and contortions which highlight the narrator’s state of mind).

In a very simple stage design, by Fraud, of black curtain, white floor, and sticks of light, Donnachie stands, paces, engages with the “person” she is speaking to in the audience. Her story is horrifying but not without humour, in flashes. Even in allowing dignity to the dead natural processes can cause a moment of amusement.

Alexandra Donnachie in When We Died
Alexandra Donnachie in When We Died. Image by Ali Wright

I found the description of the embalming process just as disturbing as the depiction of events leading up to the rape (“I knew exactly what he was going to do before he did it”). Both elements of storytelling related in a detached style, but you know if you reach out and touch this woman she may shatter like glass, and the shards may hurt you.

The professional woman who methodically does her job: closing the mouth, closing the eyes, pumping fluid into the body, draining the blood. She still shakes when she meets the wife he left behind. But ultimately this is a story of survival. He is gone, and she is still here, just.

Judgement: Wow, Meow, or Furred Brow?

It’s a Wow for When We Died, an accomplished production on a very difficult pair of subjects: the effects of sexual assault, and the aftermath of death. If anything, the second often feels more taboo than the first, so for Donnachie and Routledge to tackle both head on could have backfired.

When We Died won’t be to everyone’s taste, but the triggers which may distress audiences have been addressed with the ability to leave and return if needed, a quiet space to go to, and a list of support resources.

A compelling monologue which I definitely recommend.

LouReviews received a complimentary ticket to see When We Died.