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  • Alice Duboin

Review - Invisible Animal

Omnibus Theatre

Playing until 4th November 2023


Tom Manning


Aisling Gallagher

Set Designer

Emma Wee

Photo Credit: Shona Louise

Review {AD - PR Invite}

Inspired by Tom Manning’s personal experience as an autistic individual who grew up in a world built for neurotypicals, Invisible Animal tells Tom’s struggles, challenges and coping mechanisms and how he and his alter ego navigate an environment that fails to see him as the person he is.

This play has done a remarkable job setting the scene, even before the show starts. The audience is presented straight away with the stage's décor as they enter the auditorium. On this occasion, we are shown to a room subdued with some light pop music and filled with things you would find in the room of teenagers from the eighties: CRT TV, VHS, Manga, board games, books and of course clothes on the floor and some mess here and there. In the back, there is a big screen and above that, a captions monitor. It is subtle, but the audience can just about make out the silhouette of a man, fading into the décor and almost invisible, seated on a weight bench to the right of the room. The man appears to be lost in his own thoughts, indifferent to the world around him with his headphones on, eyes closed and nodding his head to the beat of the music.

Once the audience is settled, Tom Manning appears on the screen to welcomes us, explaining what it means to be neurodivergent and how challenging it is for him and his alter-ego to fit into a neurotypical world. Manning stands up from his bench, full of energy, and presents himself as the other side of the coin, the reason and the effect.

Manning starts a monologue like if it was a rehearsal for some real-life situations by using well-recognised and perfectly picked dialogues from movies and we found ourselves saying them out loud with him. During the course of the show, we hear some of Tom’s memories and his interactions with others, the bullies, the fear. The cruelty of the facts he shared cementing the emotional triggers felt by the audience members.

In the background, the TV turns on and some famous scene from movies begin to play, evolving into a ping-pong of dialogues between the TV and Tom. He explains to us he yearns to be normal and how he feels like somebody had convinced him that it is wrong to be autistic. He also explains why he likes movies, because he has learned to interact with these set scenarios. Joined by two audience participators on stage, Manning gave them some dialogues and asked them to rehearse with him. However, this does not prepare him for reality and the unpredictability of the world. Instead, turning to things he has control over, such as weightlifting, gives him comfort.

This play is powerful, Manning puts his heart and emotions out in the open: excellent, strong and fragile all at the same time. By mixing the different media such as TV, digital actor, subtitles in a live performance are an interesting representation of our actual world where our attention is no longer focused. In an era where diversity and inclusion are supposed to be the norm, the invisible remains fades into the background compared to the ones who are more vocal or capable of making themselves heard. Following this unique experience, I would like to let Tom know that you are not invisible, I saw you and that you gave your all on this stage.

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