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Operation Black Antler at the Southbank Centre | Review

Operation Black Antler. Deep swimming in a murky world - Image Credit Blast Theory
Operation Black Antler. Deep swimming in a murky world – Image Credit Blast Theory

I love immersive theatre. In my time writing reviews, I have experienced many immersive theatre shows. I’ve survived a zombie apocalypse, hunted for Jack the Ripper, lost my sense of sight and trained as a WWII spy. But of all the immersive shows I’ve been involved with, Operation Black Antler is the most unusual and thought-provoking production so far.

For obvious reasons, I can’t go into detail about Operation Black Antler, but I can give you an idea of what happens taken from the production company – Blast Theory – website. “In Operation Black Antler you are given a new identity as part of a small team; you are briefed and then sent into an undercover operation. You must 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. What will you do when the power is in your hands?

Having taken part I can say it really does exactly what it says on the tin. The production itself started around 24 hours earlier than expected when I received a text telling me where to be at 8pm the next day. I duly arrived, as did some other people and we sent texts confirming our arrival – whilst secretly watching each other trying to decide if any of us was an actor in the show. In fact, suspicion was so high that when we were sent to the safe house for our briefing – again by text – and were asked if we had seen anything suspicious, one of our group, from America, mentioned the number of motorbikes that had driven past us with boxes on their backs. Apparently, they don’t have Just Eat in the USA. We were briefed and put into groups and told to work on our stories before heading undercover, using the mnemonic ‘NOVEL’ as our guide. And that’s as much as I can tell you really without giving away any spoilers.

What I can say is that Operation Black Antler is absolutely brilliant from start to finish. Although I may have gone in thinking I was just doing another show, both my partner/colleague and I were soon sucked into the world that had been prepared for us to the point where the line between fiction and reality disappeared. I found myself having conversations and agreeing with ideas that I would never normally consider while totally denying who and what I am in the interests of getting information.

At the end, as we headed to our debrief, both my colleague and I were discussing what had happened and both of us mentioned feeling dirty – in fact, I said I felt like I needed a shower after what I had been through. However, if we thought things were finished, the debrief put paid to that idea as – again no spoilers – our handler asked for our thoughts on various options that the forces of the state were considering using.

I can’t mention any of the cast or creatives as, to be frank, I have no idea who they are. What I can say is that Operation Black Antler was a brilliantly conceived, staged and acted experience for me that raised a lot of questions in my mind about my own morality and attitudes to the whole business of state surveillance. I’m normally an advocate for the freedom of the individual and minimum state control but, having been through the events of the previous hour or so, I found myself during the debrief arguing with other ‘operatives’ about the methods necessary to protect us.

Absolutely awesome show, where everyone’s experience is unique but leaves you with an entire banquet to chew over in your mind and discuss with your friends.

5 Star Rating

Review by Terry Eastham

Go undercover for one night to infiltrate a covert protest group active on the fringes of British society at an immersive theatre event taking place in a secret off-site location.

In Operation Black Antler, you create a new identity as part of a small team and then head out to join an undercover operation. Moving from the safe house to your target location, you can choose to take part in a series of challenges.

You must decide what is and isn’t acceptable in the name of security while getting the job done. What will you do when the power is in your hands?

3 Apr 2019 – 13 Apr 2019
Blast Theory/Hydrocracker collaboration Operation Black Antler
Approximate run time: 120 mins
Age recommendation: For ages 18+


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