Alex is an undertaker. She loves her job. Always has. She did work experience there when she was at school. She went back in her school holidays. She qualified, aged 22 and has been working there ever since. She lives with her fiancé, Fred. She sees her beautifully un-dysfunctional family regularly. Everything’s rosy. Until one Wednesday, she’s covering a shift she wouldn’t usually and Mr Beresford is brought in.
In amongst the grimly fascinating detail about how you prepare a body for the ever after, Alexandra Donnachie unpicks her emotions about the corpse lying in front of her, eyes stubbornly open. We learn that she met him at a party. A quietly innocuous calamitous chain of events later, he rapes her. Confronting his body, she’s forced to confront all the feelings she’s been trying to bury ever since.
When We Died is an economically staged production (Andy Routledge), fittingly located in the Anatomy Theatre at Summerhall. Donnachie is barefoot, accompanied only by a spiky soundscape (Curtis Arnold-Harmer) and a handful of strip lights that change colour to evoke the morgue and her life outside. She’s a commanding performer, brilliantly evoking her careful delight in the detail and process of her work, her clinical horror in the face of her assault and her quiet bemusement at the society that allows this to happen.
This is a thoughtful piece. Don’t be deterred by the gloomy topic(s): this is a gripping and compelling piece of theatre. Donnachie shies away from easy answers, calling out the gross injustice of the violence done to her, recognising the myriad of consequences woven throughout her life after but in this story, her final encounter with the perpetrator brings her something like peace.
When We Died runs until Sun 27 Aug 2023 at Summerhall – Anatomy Lecture Theatre at 19:40