Terror is a startlingly intriguing concept – an impossibly nuanced and riddled question of morality versus constitutionality, framed against perhaps one of the biggest talking points of the last few months – terrorism. We enter into the Lyric to see the space reinvent as a courtroom – unchanging, unmoving. The theatricality feels almost oxymoronic given the intensely dull, drab environment, decked out with the customary lecterns, microphones. The court enters, the debate is delivered, we, the people, deliver the verdict.
A hijacked passenger liner of 160 is shot down en route to the Allianz Stadium, where 70,000 potential targets are saved. The shooting is illegal, unconstitutional, and the pilot is guilty. He even admits this. He took the decision in spite of being disavowed by his senior officers, knowing there was potentially the possibility that in the time it takes him to make the shot, those on board had broken into the cockpit and subdued the hijacker. The layers fall apart like onions, each extricated by a couple of witnesses as well as the defense attorney and the prosecution.
There’s something nice at play in Ferdinand von Schirach’s work, translated by David Tushingham in a way that preserves a large chunk of the intellectual debate – charting our own perception of what we believe to be punishable guilt, morally dubious guilt or, if indeed we are at war with extremists, what individuals are allowed to do. Allowing us, as a collective to finally debate whether or not the defendant is guilty or not, is an equally strong touch – from the moment the show begins we are very much conscious of our eventual decision, analysing and toying up with the various arguments and issues at play.
Where Terror falls down is that the guilt of the pilot is not the debate – it’s the nature and presence of a punishment. The discussions of Kant are nice mental perambulations, but to then arbitrarily impose this concept of having a binary decision at the end almost felt reductive – I’d rather have the ability to give and discuss my own opinions with others (something that, as it turned out, I went on to do after the show for a number of hours in a nearby pub).
The best moments in Terror come in stabs of brilliance – particularly in how we treat human life against a constitutional background (if life is infinitely valuable, how can one life be weighed against another, let alone 160 against 70,000) but for the most part it’s tough to extricate a coherent line from both the defense and the prosecution; each swaddled with a number of debates and angles. It’s unlikely you’ll see a ‘guilty’ verdict delivered any time soon (as to do so may offend British theatre-going sensibilities), but certainly worth it if one wants to have a think.