Thursday, December 8

A Dead Body in Taos – Wilton’s Music Hall

Sam is informed that her mother’s dead body has been found in the desolate region of Taos. She handles the news surprisingly well, but grief turns into anguish as she receives a letter from her mother’s pocket: Do not grieve me, I am not here. It transpires that her mother, Kath has been investing in new technology which allows her consciousness to function after death. As Sam discovers her mother’s past and interacts with her bodiless form, she comes to terms with their relationship and unresolved conflict.

Eve Ponsonby is electric as Kath as she is resurrected in snapshots of her life. Brewing with rage and propelled by an interminable search for meaning or truth, Kath jumps between different ideologies. Ponsonby expertly captures her stubborn, unbound spirit governed by a deep inner turmoil. The theme of AI and disembodied consciousness is not new but Kath’s tenacity and the gradual discovery of the motivations behind her decision and her psychological progression as a living person are what make the play so fascinating.

Gemma Lawrence plays Sam, whose muted, sensible personality contrasts with her mother’s mercurial temperament. Her resentment and angst evolve throughout the play as she comes to a final solution. Sam’s Lawyer is played by Nathan Ives-Moiba. His tension between professionalism and his personal response to the case is subtly but powerfully enacted. David Burnett plays Leo, Kath’s love interest, a polo-neck wearing freedom fighter inspired by Kath’s ferocity. Burnett skilfully conveys the nuances between his younger and older self. Clara Onyemere has several roles but stands out as Agnes Martin, a soul-seeking painter who stares off into the distance with a fixed, intrigued expression. Dominic Thorburn also has different roles all of which are played excellently, as some of the male influences in Kath’s life.  With direction from Rachel Bagshaw, the multi-roling is done with expertise, giving each character a truthful yet bizarre mysticism.

Ben and Max Ringham’s sound design ranges from ominous to exhilarating with ceremonial drumbeats and string sequences. The synthetic voice is particularly unnerving as well, all to a heightened effect in the acoustic Wilton’s Music Hall. Katy’s Morison’s lighting design was just as striking and effective. Ti Green designed the set which was fairly minimal with steps and a wide wooden door frame which served as a playground for resurrecting Kath’s past. The words projected on the stage subconsciously suggested a separation between bodies, language and meaning.

David Farr’s incisive and reflective writing appeals to the clash between human vitality and materiality and the developing AI industry as well as touching on human impressionability. A Dead Body in Taos is a timely, poignant play that is not to be missed.

Playing until 12th November, https://wiltons.org.uk/whatson/763-a-dead-body-in-taos

Reviewer: Riana Howarth

Reviewed: 27th October 2022

North West End UK Rating: ★★★★★

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