SOPHIE CUNDALL responds to When we Died at VAULT festival

cn: body horror, sexual abuse, misogyny.

I feel sick.

[I think we all did, i think we’re all supposed to, they offered us a quiet room]


Was it the graphic descriptions of eye ball staples that did it? Of the ‘embalming fluid’ flowing through the corpses’ veins?

[i know it was for effect, knowledge plucked from the brain of an embalmer, but I felt too uncomfortable]


Was it that trademark stuffy scent that fills the underground air of the Vaults?

[thats what they don’t tell you about when you decide to make an edgy theatre under a train station I suppose!]


[actually that auto-corrected to train atrium, perhaps a more appropriate title given the, you know, *bodily* content]


Was it the threat of COVID-19 that is constantly on the back of our minds as bambi eyes peak over blue masks?

[masks don’t work, actually, they say now, but maybe I needed one for this show, a…shield]


Was it the lighting changes, they can be migraine-inducing, especially the white ones, we’ve all read the symptoms list on the NHS website?

[there was so much purple, actually- I hate purple, but does anyone like it? Maybe it’s only Prince]


Was it the kerfuffle at the start, the packed commute and the man who mocked me for having a press ticket and thinking I was important? [how dare a woman take up any space; who do you think you are?]


Actually, maybe we’re getting warmer.


That’s it, I think, maybe, we are.


I say we, I was sat between two men.

[they laughed, a lot? There weren’t that many jokes]


Maybe it’s because I was on my ‘own’?

[loneliness is more dangerous when you’re a woman]


I think

[I say think because I am not sure]


I understand

[not why it happens, but why I feel, you know]


Nothing will make a female-identifying body fall apart more quickly than a story of sexual violence.


Nothing will make your stomach drop, twist, churn, more quickly than a story of a man following you home, letting himself in…


Oh! I only wanted to use the loo.


They never do though; do they?


They never just want to check you’re ok, though; do they?


They never just happen to have crossed the road to your side just because it’s convenient though; do they?


Nothing is more familiar than, well, sexual violence.


1/3 women have experienced some form of it.


I think Alexandra Donnachie’s play and performance, finally, has captured that feeling. The fear. The sickness. The flinching. The anguish. The trauma.


They said it was a story of hope; living, despite the title, and in a way, it was.


She tells her mum.

[not many of us do that]


She’s turning the page.

[not many of us do that]


But as I stumbled out of the vaults and the fresh air slapped my face, I didn’t feel very hopeful. I didn’t feel very… alive.


It is a beautiful story and one that needs to be told, but one that has a deeply tragic, and despairing heart. To call it hopeful is misleading, but important, cathartic, it certainly is.


[i thought it was autobiographical, it isn’t, but the story is so common and disgustingly relatable it seems to serve the same purpose for both performer and audience]


Maybe more of us should tell our mums?


Or maybe more of us should make brutally honest theatre that makes your skin crawl and burn with anger and hopelessness. Maybe more of us should move like Donnachie, muscles taut and rippling, close to tearing our skin apart.


Maybe then they’ll know how it feels.


[but then again, they, laughing, probably wouldn’t listen anyway]


‘When We Died’ runs at VAULT festival from the 10th-15th March 2020. More information here

Featured Image courtesy of Ali Wright.