“Get a drink, stay calm, assess the room”
The heart sinks a little bit when you get a reviewing assignment which ends with the request not to reveal too much about the production. You Me Bum Bum Train is the perfect example (especially as it was my entry into the world of immersive theatre) and looking back on it, from first to second to third time around, it is clearly a skill I had to learn (and am still learning).
Which is all by means of building up to [not] talking about Operation Black Antler, a Blast Theory and Hydrocracker production running out of Manchester’s Home. In select groups, we’re thrown into the world of undercover surveillance on the streets of Manchester where we’re to “question the morality of state-sanctioned spying” – basically like an episode of Spooks if it were written by Paul Abbott and made by Channel 4.
As with so much open-air immersive theatre, much of the thrill comes from the unknown and the unexpected. Walking down streets, into busy pubs, nipping around dark corners, one’s expectations are challenged at every interval – is everyone in on it? can all these pedestrians and/or pubgoers actually be actors? Will you ever really get an answer?! Is this what life as an undercover police officer might be like, so full of suspicion and uncertainty.
And that’s before you’ve even cracked into the meat of what is at stake in the operation itself. You’re cleverly pushed into the position of questioning how far is too far when it comes to security, what are the acceptable limits for government agencies to set, what happens when they exceed how far you’re willing to go as an individual. It is powerful stuff, and made even more poignant by the brutal reality of recent atrocities committed in the name of terrorism both here and in London. That situation was bravely alluded to at one point, sensitively handled even in the face of still-raw emotion.
What more to say? What more can I say? Be bold and book!