After a week of jury service I was ideally prepared to sit in judgement, both as a critic and as a “juror,” over the Lyric Hammersmith’s courtroom drama, Terror, which opened on Friday.
Terror plays out like the lateral thinking puzzles which maths teachers set in exams to confound and confuse their students.
The dilemma is simple. The solution is down to the audience who alter the outcome of the drama at every performance by voting guilty or not guilty.
Yes, it’s gimmicky but it tells you a lot about the human condition and is an innovative way of encouraging public participation.
Terror has been written by German barrister and playwright Ferdinand von Schirach (and translated by David Tushingham) and asks us to consider a poser that tests everything we know and believe.
A hijacked plane containing 164 men, women and children, is on a collision course to a football stadium containing 70,000 people.
Given the choice, do you illegally shoot down the plane, killing all on board, to avert a bigger disaster, or do you let fate take its course?
A hotshot top gun, Major Lars Koch (Ashley Zhangazha) was sent up to shadow the hijacked plane but, fearing that a major catastrophe was about to occur, he took it upon himself to act.
His actions in shooting the plane out of the sky, result in him being arrested for mass murder.
What follows, on stage, is his trial which, it has to be said, is completely unrealistic in British terms. However, I know nothing of German courtroom procedure so we’ll assume that lawyer von Schirach knows his stuff.
Here you have the judge, nicely played by Tanya Moodie, cross-examining witnesses while the prosecution counsel (Emma Fielding) lays into a witness (John Lightbody’s coldly analytical duty air controller) and the defence, Forbes Masson bickers with the prosecutor.
Even the accused is given leave to answer back, make his own accusations and deliver a powerful and persuasive argument without anyone challenging him.
Director Sean Holmes succeeds in making stifling dull courtroom dialogue seem interesting but, because of the nature of the production, there’s little opportunity for its cast to break out of the rigid parameters of their roles.
But both Fielding and Masson come into their own with their riveting closing arguments. Who convinces you more? After all, a man’s liberty is at stake (no, not really.)
There is a neat little twist which throws a spanner into everyone’s thinking and, after a short recess, the audience delivers its verdict.
Should I reveal how we voted on Saturday night? I’ll simply say that, as far as I was concerned, no-one is above the law. Laws are made for a reason and, without them, lies anarchy. There is no room for sentiment in justice.
Terror throws up a fascinating moral and ethical dilemma – if you’re interested in courtroom dramas. I can see that some people might find them as dull as real life coverage of our courts system.
But I’ve spent more than 40 years watching and listening to the whole of human life parade in front of magistrates and judges and I never tire of hearing the tragic, humorous, thought-provoking and often outlandish stories.
So what would you do? Guilty or not guilty. You’ll be discussing the pros and cons long after leaving the theatre.
Terror is running at the Lyric Hammersmith until July 15.
Gripping courtroom drama, Terror, throws up the mother of all moral and ethical dilemmas and leaves it to the audience to resolve. Fascinating and thought-provoking.