Review: Operation Black Antler, Southbank Centre

Daring and detailed, Operation Black Antler is a powerfully thought-provoking piece of immersive theatre booking out of the Southbank Centre

“Let’s go for a deep swim”

When a company sticks the term ‘immersive’ on its marketing copy, it can too often be a wishy-washy attempt to lure its audience in without really making them engage on any meaningful level. There’s no danger of that with Blast Theory and Hydrocracker’s Operation Black Antler though, as your undercover police mission to infiltrate a suspect protest group means you have to get right in there, really challenging yourself to see how far you can, or should, go in the name of national security.

So much of the thrill of the event comes from the unknown (is it time for more You Me Bum Bum Train yet?) so no spoilers here, but I will say that there’s something shockingly effective about the set-up, the ease with which one can slip into someone else’s shoes and adopt a voice full of abhorrent messaging, ostensibly for the greater good. You can choose how much or how little you engage with the process but let’s face it, no-one is booking an immersive show to embrace your retiring wallflower side! Continue reading “Review: Operation Black Antler, Southbank Centre”

Review: Operation Black Antler, Home

“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.  Continue reading “Review: Operation Black Antler, Home”

Review: This House, National Theatre

“We have traditions, gentlemen’s agreements…things to help us to the best we can”

It’s always nice when karma works out in your favour. A clash in the schedule meant that I had to return my original ticket for This House and as the run was completely sold out, I was doubtful that I’d get to see the show. But as it turned out, standing tickets in the pit had just been released and so for the princely sum of £5, I was able to take in an early preview of James Graham’s new play for the National Theatre.

Set in the halls of Westminster across the incident-ridden 1974-1979 parliament, This House occupies that strange ground of fictionalised reality that so many playwrights seem to love. Graham has taken inspiration from the real events of the time – the hung parliament, economic crises, changes in leadership and a surprisingly high mortality rate among MPs – and created his own version of events. His focus lies with the whips on both sides and it is from their perspective that we see events occur, as they troubleshoot left, right and centre, struggle to control their wayward members and do deal after deal with their opposing counterparts, observing the age-old traditions and principles that serve in place of a constitution. Continue reading “Review: This House, National Theatre”

Not-a-Review: Summer and Smoke, Southwark Playhouse

“The girl who said ‘No’, she doesn’t exist anymore, she died last summer – suffocated in smoke from something on fire inside her.”

Yet another rarely performed Tennessee Williams play has made its way onto the London fringe, in this case it is a short run of Summer and Smoke at the Southwark Playhouse. But it was in the Vault rather than the main house and directed by Rebecca Frecknell with little appreciation for the acoustics of this particularly unforgiving space (which as a deaf person I have previously found to be rather challenging) and so after suffering with not being able to hear much of what was going on or indeed figure out what was happening, I bailed at the interval. If you want to know what it was like, read this review instead.

Running time: 2 hours 40 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 30th June

 

Review: I Never Get Dressed Till After Dark On Sundays, Cock Tavern

“I sense this is going to be a sticky run-through”

I Never Get Dressed Till After Dark On Sundays is one of two Tennessee Williams’ plays, previously unperformed, which the Cock Tavern are putting on to mark what would have been his 100th birthday year. I Never Get Dressed… is actually an unpublished work, being written in 1970 immediately after his departure from rehab.

Tye and Jane are two lovers in a bedsit in a sleazy quarter of 1970s New Orleans. He is a stripper, in cahoots with the gangster running the place and driving Jane up the wall with his lazy promiscuous ways. She’s a New Yorker, a former actress trying to make it as a fashion designer but struggling to attract the right interest without having to sell herself. As ever with Williams’, the characters fit into recognizable archetypes: Tye is a strapping brute and indeed the word strapping might have been invented for the bear-ish Lewis Hayes who spends a large proportion of the play in just a flesh-coloured jockstrap; and Jane is a fragile soul, disturbed by the chatter of tourists outside, her decline into poverty, played well by Shelley Lang and they make a destructively persuasive couple. But that is not all. Continue reading “Review: I Never Get Dressed Till After Dark On Sundays, Cock Tavern”