Terror review at Lyric Hammersmith, London – ‘compelling, interactive drama’
Coupling the knotty legal dialectic of 12 Angry Men with the gut-wrenching emotional tug of United 93, Ferdinand von Schirach's Terror makes for a compelling, excruciatingly timely, but ultimately frustrating interactive theatrical experience.
In a condensed simulacrum of court proceedings, the audience plays jury in the trial of Lars Koch, a highly trained fighter pilot. Koch has disobeyed direct orders and shot down a hijacked Lufthansa plane, killing the 164 men, women and children on board, but saving the lives of 70,000 others on the ground. He is now on trial for multiple murder and the audience, keypads clutched in sweaty palms, holds his fate in its hands.
Von Schirach's play – translated by David Tushingham and directed economically by Sean Holmes on Anna Fleischle's courtroom set – ekes drama out of bone-dry dialogue, dropping dilemma after dilemma on to the scales with modest dexterity.
There are no "you can't handle the truth" declamations here, just supremely understated performances – particularly from Ashley Zhangazha's straight-backed Koch – and the fastidious fallout of justice, witness following witness.
But although Terror finds a resonant gravitas and elicits an empowering thrill, unwieldy Kantian philosophy and constant constitutional carping begin to weigh it down, and the final verdict – delivered after a 15-minute recess – doesn't feel sophisticated enough to accommodate the case's nuances. What should be a cathartic climax is a brisk, unsatisfying cop-out.