Tag Archives: Rachel Bagshaw

A Dead Body in Taos

A Dead Body in Taos


Wilton’s Music Hall

A DEAD BODY IN TAOS at the Wilton’s Music Hall


A Dead Body in Taos

“Rachel Bagshaw’s direction moves the action backwards and forwards with an efficient pace and energy, but we do occasionally get bogged down in explanation”


“When they called saying your body had been found, I had one immediate thought. I remember thinking that maybe now I’d be free”. These are the first words that Sam (Gemma Lawrence) speaks to her mother Kath (Eve Ponsonby) in over three years. Sam has just arrived in the small town of Taos in the New Mexico desert to identify the body. The freedom to which Sam is referring is obviously emotional rather than physical as there seems to have been little communication between mother and daughter up to this point. Nevertheless, Sam would still be seeking some sort of closure, and conversations with the deceased are often consoling.

Not so for Sam. She’s not talking to a corpse, but a mechanical representation of her mother aged thirty-five, into which her mother’s memories, emotions and biographical data have been uploaded. But sadly, not a lot of her personality. Artificial Intelligence has been taken to its technological, moral and unsettling extreme and we are invited to question the nature of death and human consciousness. But before we have much of a chance, we are whisked back to Kath’s student days where there is much talk about the 1968 protests, Vietnam, Cambodia and changing the world. In writer David Farr’s world, it is peopled with caricatures whose urgency and fervour seem to be being lampooned. The link to the present is a touch tenuous, but on the stage the two settings are constantly rubbing shoulders with each other in the revolving doors of a confusing narrative. We are not really sure where to invest our interest.

The dichotomy suits Sam though. Gemma Lawrence is a very watchable presence, particularly when she begins to thaw and engage with her mother’s posthumous identity. Initially outraged, she warms to the idea and we, in turn, warm to the general theme of the piece. Farr explores the flip side of Artificial Intelligence. The Future Life Corporation, where Kath is recreated, focuses on the ‘unintelligence’. The flaws that make us human. It’s not just about synthesising data, but also the false hopes, the self-delusion; the layers of deception inherent in us all. The mess and the chaos. And the unspoken love.

It is a very wordy, and at times worthy, play. Rachel Bagshaw’s direction moves the action backwards and forwards with an efficient pace and energy, but we do occasionally get bogged down in explanation. The use of surtitles is questionable and sometimes distracting and unnecessary. The performances cannot be faulted. Eve Ponsonby’s Kath seamlessly flits from her ardent past to the robotic present, and Clara Onyemere’s portrayal of Tristana Cortez – the humanely pragmatic supervisor at the Future Life Corporation – is one of the highlights of the evening.

The crux of the issues remains unanswered – as they probably always will be. “How do you create a person who has no idea who they are?” asks Cortez. “A Dead Body in Taos”, despite containing some insightful dialogue, doesn’t quite know what it is either. Like some of the scenes there are too many voices vying to be heard. We long to have our focus tied to a stronger lead. Perhaps that is the reason behind the surtitles after all.


Reviewed on 27th October 2022

by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Helen Murray


Wilton's Music Hall thespyinthestalls


Previously reviewed at this venue:


Roots | ★★★★★ | October 2021
The Child in the Snow | ★★★ | December 2021
The Ballad of Maria Marten | ★★★½ | February 2022
Starcrossed | ★★★★ | June 2022
Patience | ★★★★ | August 2022



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The Shape of the Pain

Wilton’s Music Hall

The Shape of the Pain

The Shape of the Pain

Wilton’s Music Hall

Reviewed – 19th March 2019



“It is a piece about love and pain. And understanding. And it is extraordinary.”


The Shape of the Pain was developed by Rachel Bagshaw and Chris Thorpe as a theatrical exploration of Rachel’s experience of living with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome – a neuropathic condition that causes constant chronic pain. As the performer articulates in the opening moments of the piece: ‘[It] is an experiment. In how we talk about pain. If we can ever talk about it in a way someone else can understand.’ The piece is also about love; specifically about this woman’s experience of falling in love, and of being in love. It is a piece about love and pain. And understanding. And it is extraordinary.

The elements of the show are simple: one performer, a curve of dark grey metals joined edge to edge onto which text, light and occasional monochrome images are projected, and a soundscape. The piece runs at seventy minutes, and it is a testament to the performer Hannah McPake’s exceptional skill that time passes in a moment, and we are released back into the world after what seems like an extended breath – in some way subtly changed, as if we had been taken apart and reassembled.

Chris Thorpe’s writing is magnificent, swooping as it does between lyricism, abstraction, disintegration and the concrete. It is just devastatingly good. The poetry is everywhere. In angry lists. In everyday observations. And in metaphorical flights of fancy. It is also a hymn to the word ‘fuck’, in all its splendid incarnations.

The writing and the performance operate within an intricate web of light and sound. Melanie Wilson’s textured soundscape is stunning, and Joshua Pharo’s spare video and lighting design is another essential part of this intense and darkly dazzling piece of theatre.

Works of art which endure seem always to have the ability simultaneously to address specific experience and yet encompass the universal. The Shape of the Pain belongs with these. It leaves you with a greater understanding of this rare and complex condition, but also with fresh insight into what it is to be human. It is a rare privilege to see work of this calibre. Go.


Reviewed by Rebecca Crankshaw

Photography courtesy China Plate


The Shape of the Pain

Wilton’s Music Hall until 23rd March


Previously reviewed at this venue:
Songs For Nobodies | ★★★★ | March 2018
A Midsummer Night’s Dream | ★★★½ | June 2018
Sancho – An act of Remembrance | ★★★★★ | June 2018
Twelfth Night | ★★★ | September 2018
Dietrich – Natural Duty | ★★★★ | November 2018
The Box of Delights | ★★★★ | December 2018
Dad’s Army Radio Hour | ★★★★ | January 2019
The Good, The Bad And The Fifty | ★★★★ | February 2019
The Pirates Of Penzance | ★★★★ | February 2019


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