As gripping and as ridiculous as an episode of ‘Line of Duty’, ex-lawyer Ferdinand von Schirach’s global hit interactive show ‘Terror’ is clearly an in-no-way accurate representation of a jury trial.
More what you’d call ‘an entertainment’ than a courtroom drama, this faux trial in which we vote on the outcome is actually a bloody good shout for the Lyric and its boss Sean Holmes, who directs. Theatre can be ivory towered, but this is stuff that fans of procedural TV shows will surely lap up, and fits in nicely with the Lyric’s deft mix of artiness and accessibility.
In part that’s down to the play’s main gimmick. We are the (very large) jury, and we know that at the end we’ll be asked to vote in the murder trial of Lars Koch (Ashley Zhangazha), a jet fighter pilot who shot down a hijacked passenger jet in order to prevent it crashing into a stadium packed with 70,000 people. Exchanges between the judge (Tanya Moodie) and her court, that might seem hackneyed if we were more dispassionate, feel morally fraught when you’re spending the entire show working up to your vote.
It is of course waaay beyond the realm of possibility that a court case of this sort would be wrapped up in a couple of months, let alone a couple of pacy hours. For all the gravitas of Von Schirach’s text (translated by David Tushingham), everything here needs to be taken with a large pinch of salt.
Nevertheless, it is good at exploring a complicated moral area. Emma Fielding’s icy prosecutor Nelson is excellent at mercilessly pressing the cold, stiff Koch on his moral relativism: would he have shot the plane down if his family had been on board? Can he honestly say he didn’t murder the 164 passengers? And it’s the same for us: there are two possible endings to the play, depending on how the audience vote, and verdicts have varied in productions across the globe, but ‘not guilty’ has dominated. Is this because it has the most compelling legal argument? Or because on a gut moral level we believe the pilot did the right thing, regardless of the law? At the very least, ‘Terror’ offers a corrective to notions of justice being blind.
What seals the deal is the cast. You could quite easily imagine this being done with second-tier actors, but Holmes has roped in some big hitters to combat the whiff of novelty. Moodie, in particular, is a towering actor whose air of total authority binds the night together.
Like an episode of ‘Line of Duty’, when it’s over, the urge to nitpick its many absurdities mounts. But while it lasts, it’s a thrill.