Review: Terror, Lyric Hammersmith

Terror is undeniably relevant. The recent attacks in Manchester and London mean that the word is all too ready at hand, a default thought, society’s daily fear. Therefore, this internationally acclaimed play, written by German playwright Ferdinand von Schirach and now sensitively translated by David Tushingham, is faced with an audience for whom the emotion and threat is a familiar, niggling reality.

Two years after its debut in Berlin and Frankfurt in 2015, Terror is pertinent but suitably distant from recent events. We are in Germany and a fighter pilot has gone against his orders. In order to stop terrorists who have high jacked a commercial Lufthansa flight from killing 70,000 people in a stadium below, Major Lars Koch shot the plane down, sacrificing the lives of 164 civilians. He took the situation into his own hands, and chose the lesser of two evils. What ensues is two engaging hours of courtroom drama and moral turmoil.

But what takes Terror beyond the hypothetical, and brings the scenario alive, is that you are the jury. More than just an exploration of the issues that emerge from the growing threat from terrorists, Terror poses an active philosophical problem that it demands you to answer. In the 15 minute interval you have a chance to make your decision, and give your verdict via keypad on your return.

It’s a heavy premise, and, with the traditional court room set facing the audience-turned-jury directly, quite an intense prospect. Thankfully, verbose speeches littered with Kant and philosophical scenarios from the barristers are balanced with pithy one-liners which take the edge off what could easily become a dense and overwhelming lesson in morality.

Tanya Moodie as the judge is particularly wonderful at delivering these punchy tone changers, and manages to excel in bringing personality to the role of authoritative compere of the proceedings. Likewise Emma Fielding is believable as an indomitable word-twisting prosecution barrister, stalking across the stage in black suede stilettos as she grills fighter pilot Lars Koch.

That said, sadly her performance lacks consistency and the confidence of her early questioning seems to peter out in her final address. Forbes Masson puts in a hearty and far more consistent performance as Koch’s defence barrister.

Ashley Zhangazha, as Major Koch, puts in a strong turn as the restrained fighter-pilot. Yet the script is such that it is hard for Zhangazha to convey the depth of emotion such a decision would stir. He gives no final speech, and so the performance fails to establish an emotional, human connection with the audience. Similarly, Shanaya Rafaat as the nurse who loses her husband on the plane seems only mildly unnerved in her testimony rather than in the depths of grief, and her performance could do with a little more fire and grit.

Terror is a punchy interactive drama, based on an interesting concept, but while it succeeds in exposing the legal implications surrounding the defence of civilians against terrorism, it seems to miss something far more obvious. Terror seeks solace in hard fact, yet as we have seen all too recently love is often the best defence.

Terror plays the Lyric Hammersmith until July 15.

Photo: Tristram Kenton