Operation Black Antler is an immersive drama about police surveillance and political extremism, topics that are both sensitive and relevant.
In conventional theatre the audience sits back and watches actors talk and make decisions on a stage – in immersive drama the audience enters the production and takes part in the dramatic action.
So in Operation Black Antler participants are given a new identity as part of a small team, they are briefed and then sent into an undercover operation.
Their mission is to get information about the aims and membership of an extremist organisation and then report back to their controllers. Their report will then help determine what future action will be taken against the extremists.
PUZZLING AND UNIQUE: MM describe the immersive theatre experience as very disturbing but also high order entertainment
The experience is like the choose-your-own-adventure story books or computer games where you are a participant and not just an observer, where your decisions – and mistakes – can change both the plot and the final outcome.
But unlike the story books, you cannot cheat by flipping through the pages ahead, and unlike the computer game you cannot just kill the game and start all over again. Once in, a player is there to the bitter end.
The locations for Operation Black Antler included some of the more derelict buildings around the town centre and these successfully conveyed the murk and shadow of conspiracy and spying. Text instructions from the controllers suggested the faceless anonymity of electronic surveillance.
Even the pedestrians encountered on the streets as you move around the city following texted directions add to the atmosphere: are they just ordinary passers-by, or do they include controllers with more instruction or extremists who have sussed you out?
The whole experience was both engrossing and disturbing. Was my deception working and was I convincing the extremists that I was with them and worthy of their trust or were they waiting for the right and most unpleasant moment to unmask me?
It was very disturbing but it was also high order entertainment.
Did I come away opposed to under-cover operations? No. Did it make me worry about the dangers of undercover surveillance? Yes.
And I also wondered about how surveillance affects the hearts and minds of those who have to do it.
As you yourself lie and pry to play your role, you are forced to reflect on your own sense of right and wrong: just how much lying can I do and how much deception can I practise to uncover the truth?
WHO DO YOU TRUST? A joint production by artists’ group Blast Theory and the immersive theatre company Hydrocracker, Operation Black Antler will test your nerve
Operation Black Antler is a joint production by artists’ group Blast Theory and the immersive theatre company Hydrocracker.
Performances run to Saturday June 17 and can be booked online through the Home Theatre. Once your booking is confirmed you will receive instructions by SMS informing you where you will meet.
Make sure the phone is fully charged when you go and keep it handy just in case you might need to be pulled out of an operation or told to move on to a new location.
Performances start from 6pm and typically last for 120 minutes. Once your performance is over, you have time to reflect on the production with other participants in the cinema bar at the Home Theatre.