A Dead Body in Taos at Wilton’s Music Hall
Exploring some urgent ideas such as identity and freedom, A Dead Body in Taos – David Farr’s latest creation – bristles with entertaining dialogue and well-presented production, but a lack of focus in the narrative mars the overall experience by creating confusion in the themes that remain unresolved.
That’s not to say that Taos is a bad play, just that it is too diffuse in parts. The main plot centres on Sam (Gemma Lawrence), who, having not spoken to her mother Kath (Eve Ponsonby) in three years, discovers that she’s been found dead in New Mexico. However, it turns out that the she has left her substantial fortune to a company that has designed an AI replica of herself, so that she can reconcile with Sam.
But we also gain substantial insight into Kath’s years as an activist during the Civil Rights Movement and the beginning of her career as a designer. While these aspects are loosely tied to the main plot via the theme of freedom and her desire to break free, there is no emotional connection or sufficient justification in the narrative. It’s ultimately little more than an extensive backstory that is dropped on the audience, but at the conclusion it is of no further consequence. It’s like watching two plays at the same time.
And this, in turn, leaves central questions of the main plot untouched or under-explored. What are the wider implications of Kath’s new existence as an AI? What does it mean for the concept of consciousness when the host body is obviously different but the memories the same? But none of this is ever addressed. Instead, it’s all about Sam trying to find forgiveness for a mother who abandoned her – fair enough, but it doesn’t connect to the reality of Kath’s extreme political life.
This is all a pity since the depiction of the Civil Rights Movement is highly energetic, especially through Ponsonby’s stellar performance that hooks both in the flashbacks with her wild vitality and her stoic existence as an AI. She’s supported by Rachel Bagshaw’s beautifully otherworldly production, including some great video design by Sarah Readman. All this makes A Dead Body in Taos a worthwhile show to attend, even if the pressing questions do sadly remain unanswered in the end.
Photo: Helen Murray
A Dead Body in Taos is at Wilton’s Music Hall from 27th October until 12th November 2022. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.
Watch a trailer for the production here: