Writer/Directors: Matt Adams, Richard Hahlo, Jem Wall, Ju Row Farr, Nick Tandavanitji
Reviewer: Matt Forrest
The chances are if you utter the words “Forget about it” in a faux Italian accent, someone within ear shot will reply “Forget about it” back, such is the appeal and fondness for the 1997 film Donnie Brasco, which saw Johnny Depp go deep undercover to infiltrate the mafia. If you are a fan of that genre of film then Operation Black Antler is the perfect night out for you.
This joint collaboration from the BAFTA nominated group Blast Theory and the highly acclaimed Hydrocracker theatre company invites you take part in a thought-provoking and at times challenging piece of immersive theatre. You and your team of undercover police are planted into a local Manchester pub, where a party is occurring. At this party it is believed all manner of nefarious activities are taking place, including drug dealing and far right recruitment. It is your job to get as much information as you can and get out.
All reviewers have been asked to say very little about the locations or characters you will encounter so as to not spoil anything. Certainly the less you know beforehand, the better the experience will be and with an event like this the more you invest into it, the greater the reward will be. A simple walk from one location to another is all the more exciting as the paranoia of who may or may not be involved is heightened.
This is an ambitious and impressive production. It tries hard to examine the morals and ethics of undercover surveillance and the impact it has on the people being investigated, be they guilty or innocent. It also explores the pressure on those doing the investigating to put aside their own politics and views in order to get key information which would keep us safe.
Because of the nature of the piece, when you interact with some of the characters you may well hear and see some shocking activities, including violence and bigotry. This only adds to the authenticity and ‘gritty’ realism of the production. In no way does Operation Black Antler glamorise or offer up some ‘Hollywood’ style villain, it offers a balanced, well researched but most of all a realistic portrayal of some misguided and disenfranchised aspects of British society.
From a critical point of view: all the cast I encountered were on point and the locations well chosen and perfect for the scenario. The strength of the production is that you don’t know who is part of it and who isn’t. High praise too for all cast members who must remain in character for up to 4 hours a night, which is no mean feat.
In light of the recent terror incidents in Manchester and London it must have been a brave decision to go ahead with the production. When in conversation with one of the actors, the Manchester terror attack did crop up and it was handled with the sensitivity and respect that it deserved and this further highlighted the planning and preparation that has gone into this production.
This may not be for everyone because of its disturbing subject matter, but it provides a snapshot into world that is alien to us, while allowing the actor in us all to shine through. The merits and ethical issues of police surveillance have never been in the public eye as much as they are now and Operation Black Antler certainly adds more to the debate. This reviewer’s advice is simple: go along for the ride!
Runs until the 17 June 2017 | Image: Contributed