When Sam receives a call about her mother found dead in the desert of Taos, her very first thought was ‘Maybe now I am free’. Little does she know that she is in for a disturbing challenge as she boards a plane to New Mexico to sort her mother’s affairs.

© Tristram Kenton

A Dead Body in Taos is David Farr’s latest play. Based in the long-time artist colony Taos, it tells the story of two estranged women who seem to love each other but cannot climb over their own barriers. Sam has been travelling to the small town to identify the body of Kath (Sam calls her by her first name because she never liked the term ‘mother’) and execute her will. Upon meeting with her lawyer, Sam discovers that her mother had become associated with one of America’s many enterprises that promise a life after death. Discovering that Kath recently changed her will to fund her own programme at the Future Life Corporation, Sam is given the opportunity to rebuild the broken relationship with her mother.

Initially I thought that this would be a story about Sam and her anger at her selfish mother, who placed her into a boarding school in London and left for the States whilst having ‘some sort of breakdown’. Much to my surprise, it is Kath we get to know well as the story unfolds. Full of ideas and ideals, we follow her story through an area dominated by the Vietnam War and the various movements against it. We learn about very different phases and stages in her life that lead to her spending her life’s savings to become an artificially intelligent robot and relive her life with those people she was unable to maintain relationships with.

Eve Ponsonby brilliantly brings ‘Cyborg Kath’ to life with an eerie accuracy in her flat and robotic voice. I am impressed by the rapid switches she is able to make when we jump from the laboratory to the episodes in her life that define the robot she has become. I am equally drawn to Gemma Lawrence’s portrait of Sam and sympathise with all the emotions that come with discovering that your dead mother is not as dead as you thought. The entire cast does a great job to support the story, given that there are rapid character switches at certain times.

© Tristram Kenton

Ti Green’s set is minimalist, carried by a huge backdrop of screens that serve as a place to display subtitles as well as graphics to enrich the story. I am a fan of the inclusiveness those subtitles bring to the performance.  

Farr’s story fascinatingly explores the reasons AI is feared while not getting too much into science fiction. It dwells on the edges of possibilities, almost leaving the spectator to fill in the blanks while they are left to make sense of what this story is actually about. I am a fan of the concept and the ideas tossed around, but I am not entirely convinced by the execution. I wanted to learn more about the past relationship between Kath and Sam. I did not get enough information about Sam’s motives during her time in Taos (which is hard to explain without spoiling), and don’t get me started on Kath’s other relationships. At the end of the show, I know one thing: I have questions.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

{🎟 AD – PR invite – Tickets were gifted in exchange for an honest review}

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