With our collaborators Hydrocracker, we have just launched Operation Black Antler – an immersive theatre work in which members of the public are invited to go undercover at a protest meeting on the fringes of British society. Like many of the projects we’ve made, it is a risky work that puts the audience in a situation they would not normally be in.
The experience begins with a text message telling audiences where and when to meet. Then, in a small groups, they work to develop their undercover identity, learning about their targets and their motivations before going operational. Part role play game, part interactive theatre, at its heart Operation Black Antler is an invitation to explore the moral and ethical dilemma of how far undercover surveillance is acceptable in the name of state security.
You decide on your cover story and how far you want to take it. Audiences have told us that they feel empowered by this – it’s fascinating to me that people are so hungry to understand where ‘the other side’ is coming from. I believe to really enter into a debate about the ethics of state sanctioned surveillance and how far it should go to protect its citizens, we need to step into different shoes.
Operation Black Antler gives participants an opportunity to meet, build empathy with and ultimately try to win the trust of someone whose political and moral views may be the polar opposite of our own. We’re acutely aware of the heightened atmosphere of political turmoil and anxiety around us – making the context of the piece all the more real and raw.
And that’s very much affected the way we’ve treated the script and the characterisation. Whilst it’s impossible to predict exactly where Britain will be come opening night at Southbank Centre, one thing is certain: that it’s unlikely to be a settled political picture and we’ll be constantly adapting the script in response to that.
It may be a work of fiction but our experience is that works of this kind have a powerful effect on those who take part. It is not a world of easy certainties. It is challenging and it is not for everyone. I hope that you will come to the Southbank Centre and let us know what you think.
Operation Black Antler is at London’s Southbank Centre from 3 – 13 April this year. Book tickets via the Southbank Centre ticket office.
Operation Black Antler is a work by Blast Theory and Hydrocracker. Co-commissioned by Ideas Test and Brighton Festival, Operation Black Antler has been developed with support from Arts Council England and in partnership with Dramatic Resources.