Edinburgh Fringe 2023
He’s dead, and it’s her job to prepare and present his body for his family’s final goodbye. She often imagines what each person’s life was like. But today she doesn’t have to imagine who he is. She knows this man.
Faced with the body of the man who raped her eleven months ago, When We Died is a new play about one woman’s choice to confront her trauma and tell her story, on her terms.
Rachel is an embalmer and she loves her job. She often tries to imagine what they were like in life as she works to make them look as though merely asleep. For their families to bid their final farewells. Sometimes she learns that her guesses are spot on. Today she has offered to cover a staff absence, she often offers to work extra time, to cover absence, it helps her to deal with the isolation that has grown since the trauma of 11mths ago… and finds that she doesn’t need to imagine, she knows this man. It is the man who raped her 11 months ago, who has fallen from a ladder on the roof and died. There is an element of irony in the fact that, had he not raped her, she wouldn’t be at work faced with embalming his body.
Alexandra Donnachie presents a powerful intricate tale that weaves between the story of meeting this man in life, the encounter that led to the rape, the process of embalming – both at the generic ‘this is what we do’ level and the personal, exploring her feelings and memories in the context of the work she is doing on his body. A body that is no longer a threat. The tables are turned, and we see the contrast of the bodily invasion required by her profession and the unwanted invasion she experienced.
Donnachie’s performance is lively, engaging, and completely convincing as someone who both loves her job and is living with after effects of trauma. The shifts between her enthusiastic explanations of how eyelids need to be secured or they will fly open – “it really isn’t like in the films” – and the more measured, almost reluctant, telling of the tale that has brought us to this day means that the pace never flags, we are completely absorbed throughout.
There is also a tremendous physicality as she mimics the steps of the embalming process on herself, choreographed by Christina Fulcher with meticulous direction by Andy Routledge.
For all that both rape and death are difficult and dark subjects she lightens the story with humour. The ending currently feels a little too tidy and might benefit from exploring it as a step a journey to recovery and reconciliation rather than something that is clearly going to happen.
This is an absorbing one woman play that will stay with you, on many different levels, long after you leave Edinburgh.