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Prague Fringe 2024

When We Died

Carbon Theatre London

Genre: Solo Performance, Theatre

Venue: A Studio Rubin


Low Down

Alexandra Donnachie undertakes the aftermath of sexual assault from inside a mortuary in “When We Died”. 

By Carbon Theatre London.


A woman steps into the light and introduces herself as ‘The Embalmer.’  She is calm–peaceful, even.  She exhibits great care for her subject: a cold corpse lying below her on the examiner’s table. 

Expertly informed, the woman delivers a play-by-play of the process. With graceful precision, she manipulates the physical flesh of her own bare arm to depict the body.  She tells us that massaging the limbs prevents rigor mortis before embalming. Sure it’s a bit creepy, but I was confident we should trust her.

At the crux of it, “When We Die” is a sleek and seamlessly devised monologue about coming to terms with the trauma of a sexual assault, not an extended reenactment of the event. It’s told through flashes of revisited memories from inside the present-day funeral home where the abuser lies on the metal gurney of the abused. For what it’s worth, I appreciated that we met the man dead from the start.  

The tension heightens when she announces her intent: tell the wife of her abuser the truth. A volatile notion under the circumstances, but perhaps a radical act to relieve both of any more time mourning. 

Alexandra Donnachie’s solo performance is an absolute masterclass in physical theatre. Her pacing is unrelenting and the specificity is hair-raising. Morbid and meaningful, her embodiment of trauma leaves you breathless. She is keenly attuned to how intense emotions reside and are released in the cavities of our bodies.  

She stands barefoot throughout the play, rooting her both emotionally and physically in the role.  To see her gripping the stage as she lunges and stretches, limbs extended to the point of almost throwing her off balance is entrancing, but also moment-appropriate. Her transformations and doubling when she undertakes the secondary characters in the story are also impressively defined. Christina Fulcher, the movement and intimacy director, deserves much praise, too, for her contributions to the play.

Not confined to her physicality, Donnachie’s delivery is organic and natural–she allows the audience to be with her wholly. The story spills out of her with a fervent need to communicate it, as if keeping it in could kill her. She is both charming and chilling in the frank description of the entire embalming/dressing process of the man on her table. She expertly builds on her vocal choices with pressured speech after a life-deadening encounter with the same man, a concerning shift that hints at her altered state of mind. It is crystal clear that Donnachie has the utmost control over her instrument.

“When We Died” has a faint and creeping soundscape, an intensifying buzz setting the mood of the mortuary. Rail-thin light stands, easily purchased on Amazon, carefully line the stage, programmed to create the ambience of a house party or the disconcerting fluttering fluorescents of the embalming room. Donnachie also donned a plain grey turtleneck and basic black trousers for the part, a most neutral canvas, yet used every inch of the fabric to convey her journey. The design touches were thoughtfully edited and purposeful, taking nothing from the focus on Donnachie.  

Over the years, I’ve attended countless Fringe shows, many of which confront the distressing theme of sexual assault. The troubling aspect for me lies not in the courageous artistic portrayal of such sensitive and timely topics, but in the fact that these stories, rooted deeply in reality, keep surfacing. “When We Died” addresses this issue unconventionally, focusing on the aftermath as it explores the pursuit of closure, healing, or perhaps merely a way to move forward.

This show is a must-see if you can catch it at Studio Rubin during Prague Fringe.  In my opinion, it rises above the crop in its professionalism and execution. Keep an eye on Alexandra Donnachie; she is a fascinating performer, and I’m confident that “When We Died” will elevate her career.