How far would you go to win the trust of someone whose political and moral views may be the polar opposite of your own? What would you do when the power is in your hands? What lies would you spin? How much would or could you stretch your own morality?
For more than 50 years British police officers have been undercover inside protest groups. Established in 1968 the Metropolitan Police’s Special Demonstration Squad (SDS) was created to infiltrate left-wing action groups. The undercover police officers of the SDS assumed false identities to gain the trust of protesters and campaigners, only for several officers to go far beyond the laws they were supposedly seeking to uphold.
It is this skewing and manipulating of laws by representatives of the state – plus other well publicised modern day scandals such as Wikileaks and the Snowden affair – which gave the inspiration for Operation Black Antler, an immersive theatre experience created by Blast Theory and Hydrocracker, which comes to Southbank Centre in April.
Blast Theory is renowned internationally as one of the most adventurous artists' groups around. Using interactive media and art they explore social and political questions, placing audience members at the centre of their work. Their groundbreaking performances often blur the boundaries between the real and the fictional, and have appeared in virtual and physical spaces, from apps to abandoned warehouses, pubs to public libraries.
Operation Black Antler too has no need for a stage. The performance takes place off-site at suitably secret locations in proximity to London’s South Bank, and begins with a text message instructing the audience where and when to meet. Working in small groups you and your fellow audience members must develop your own undercover identities, as you learn about your targets and motivations before being sent into an undercover operation.
It is up to you, the audience to decide on your cover story and how far you want to take it, as you’re given the opportunity to meet, build empathy with, and ultimately try and win the trust of someone whose beliefs may not chime with your own. Could you suspend your own beliefs long enough to connect?
Part role playing game, part interactive theatre, Operation Black Antler puts you in an unfamiliar situation, and offers you an invitation to explore the boundaries of what is acceptable in the name of state security.