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Review: Saint Jude by Swamp Motel

Saint Jude is the latest immersive experience from Swamp Motel - a company that seems to constantly be pushing themselves to create truly original and engaging pieces of immersive theatre, both in the real world or online. Through the COVID-19 lockdowns, they developed Isklander, a trilogy of excellent Zoom based escape experiences that had audiences hacking into social media and email accounts in search of a missing woman against the clock.

Once on the other side of the UK's numerous lockdowns and restrictions, they opened The Drop, an escape experience that had audiences enter the criminal underworld trying to locate a long lost book inside an unassuming office block in Aldgate. It was a show that constantly pulled the rug out from under it's audience, leaving those playing to never truly know where the escape-room experience ended, and the real world began.

With expectations high, they return now with Saint Jude - a show created in collaboration with CharismaAI, that is vastly different to their previous shows. While it may not stick the landing in the same way some of their other work has, it's a unique and engaging hour of entertainment.

The premise of the show finds audience members arrive at Saint Jude, a private company that describes itself as a 'world first organisation that allows you to communicate with people trapped in lifelong, irreversible comas'. We're there for our trial shift as Guidestars - those who are paired to the mind of a random comatose patient, somewhere in the UK, and we're trying to form a strong enough connection to help them wake up.

It's no surprise that the story we enter into has more to it than first meets the eye. During our briefing from Stefan, the Saint Jude staff member tasked with explaining the technology and advising us on how to best connect to our patients, he presents with a smile almost as false as his sincerity.

Photo: Alexander Nicolaou

Once settled into our desks, with headphones on and a million instructions flying through our heads, we begin to talk to our patient. Powered entirely by AI - with a slightly robotic sounding voice, we start to learn more about our patients past and are slowly asked to reveal more about ourselves all in the name of forming a connection - classic small talk topics such as our star sign, or our favourite movie.

The technology on display is genuinely impressive, if at times a little restrictive. If you can suspend your disbelief it does feel like a proper conversation, albeit with someone who will occasionally ignore the personal details you've just shared to continue talking about themselves. It's not that surprising given you're always working towards a series of story beats, which your AI companion will keep hitting regardless of what you say. The journey, however, is thrilling and slowly escalates over an hour.

Towards the climax, the story breaks free from your headphones and requires real-world action from yourself - an interaction with others that we navigated successfully thanks to some social engineering. Ultimately it's a small moment that feels a lot larger due to the pressure put on you by the AI voice in your ears egging you on.

Swamp Motel has again delivered an experience that's totally different to anything else out there, and their ability to constantly reinvent or subvert the expectations of what an immersive experience can be is incredibly exciting, even if this show fell a little flat compared to their previous work.



Saint Jude is located at 100 Petty France, London. Tickets are available through, prices start at £20 per person.


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