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  • Writer's pictureImmersive Rumours

Review: The Manikins: a work in progress

Deadweight Theatre debuts an immersive show that defies categorisation. Performed for an audience of just one, The Manikins: a work in progress is an extraordinary experience for those lucky enough to attend.

Immersive Rumours received a complimentary ticket to this show and as such, are disclosing this information before our review. The producers have had no input in the below and all thoughts are our own.

Jack Aldisert in The Manikins: a work in progress. Photo: Rebecca J. Windsor.

Scene 1.

We receive an email with nothing written inside. Attached is a script describing us opening the email.

"They open the attachment and begin reading.

It is the first page of a play in which they are the protagonist.

The stage directions describe the moment they are currently experiencing.

They don't know how to feel about this."

Scene 2.

Weeks later, we are sat in the garden of St. Peter's Church in Bethnal Green. A man in a black turtleneck enters the courtyard and introduces himself. We follow him inside the church and descend into the basement.

Two chairs are positioned in the middle of the space, facing each other. We take a seat opposite the man in the black turtleneck and ███ ████ ███████.


Usually when reviewing an immersive show, we're very conscious of how much to reveal about the experience. Often you need to mention certain elements of what happens in order to discuss and dissect it properly. It's a delicate balance between revealing enough to get people's interest, but not so much that there are no surprises left.

With The Manikins: a work in progress, which has just started its sold-out six-week run at Crypt in Bethnal Green, explaining anything that happens in the show would ruin it. Even if we were to describe it, it'd make very little sense anyway - you need to experience it first-hand for it to hold any meaning.

It's a singular experience that defies categorisation and is unlike any other show we've ever attended.

Serena Lehman in The Manikins: a work in progress. Photo: Marc Tsang

Each performance of The Manikins: a work in progress is for a single audience member, who also serves as its protagonist. There's no hiding for those who attend the show - they're front and centre for the duration - and end up being as much a performer and collaborator in creating the experience as the two cast members (Jack Aldisert and Serena Lehman) alongside them.

Knowing that you're the sole focus of the show when you're in it is a daunting prospect. The closest comparison most immersive theatregoers will have to the opportunity The Manikins: a work in progress offers are the 1:1 scenes in Punchdrunk's large-scale shows. While on the surface it's an apt comparison to make, this show is an entirely different beast.

For much of its duration, it's unclear where the show ends and the real world begins - existing in the liminal space between dreams and reality. There are contradictions, improbabilities, and moments that are so confounding, your understanding of what is and isn't real anymore is destroyed. It’s a disorientating experience that has you questioning everything around you, including the words coming out of your own mouth. The choices thrust upon you hold so much weight that they're almost crippling, and it's hard to remember if the decisions you made were chosen by you or a different version of yourself. After a certain point, you're so far down the rabbit hole that it's impossible to see the light at the surface.

Serena Lehman and Jack Aldisert in The Manikins: a work in progress. Photo: Marc Tsang

In the days since we attended, the show has burrowed itself into our subconscious to a degree we didn't know a piece of theatre could. We'll likely still be processing it for weeks to come, and it's not something that will ever be forgotten.

In the simplest possible terms, this is the best immersive show of 2024, and it may take many more years for anything else to come close to it.



The Manikins: a work in progress runs at Parabolic Theatre's Crypt in Bethnal Green from 3rd June to 13th July 2024. Tickets are currently sold out, but you can visit to find out more about the show.


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