Courting Terror

Terror (Lyric Hamersmith)

QPAC, The Playhouse

September 19 – 23

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A hijacked Lufthansa Airbus is heading towards a packed Munich football stadium. Ignoring the orders of his superiors, a fighter pilot shoots the passenger aircraft down, killing the 164 people on board in order to save the 70,000 at the stadium for the Germany vs England football match. As he is put on trial and charged with murder, the fate of the pilot is in the audience’s hands. … Clearly, “Terror” is quite different from last year’s Brisfest hilarity from the UK’s Lyric Hammersmith in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”. Yet, in its Australian premiere, direct from London and exclusive to the Brisbane Festival, audience reaction is just as glowing for the compelling courtroom drama by the lawyer and writer Ferdinand von Schirach, which is unsurprising given its global acclaim since debut in Berlin two years ago.

The Playhouse stage has been transformed by the show’s grand, authentic courtroom design. German Army Eurofighter Lars Koch (Chris New) is in witness box; we can see him in profile as he steelily stares ahead. As lay judges, it is us to decide the consequences of his decision to deliberately end the lives of the 164 people on the plane, which breaks constitutional law. Guilty or not guilty, we decide.

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It’s is far from a straight-forward decision, especially given that lack of any revelation of conscience from the accused who stands steadfast in defence of his actions. It’s a heavy premise, with verbose speeches that require audience concentration as philosophical aspects are discussed and illustrated. Its engagement comes from the moral complexity of what is being presented for consideration. Can we sympathise with his dilemma and/or empathise with his decision, despite his apparent lack of humanity or remorse?

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Josephine Butler makes for a firm and authoritative presiding judge, pacing things along. New and his expert witness Sam Redford, are appropriately rigid in their military responses and Remmie Milner brings a soft humanity to her role as a grieving victim’s wife. But the stars are the state prosecutor (Sarah Malin) and defence lawyer (Aidan Kelly). Not only do they each passionately present convincing arguments about the sanctity of human dignity, the impact of probabilities, the notion of a greater good and the choice of a lesser evil, but they force us to consider the impact of their respective approaches as much as their legal rhetoric.

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Luckily we are given intermission to discuss and decide on our vote… and what robust discussions ensure in dissection of testimony as audience members prepare to register their votes via an electronic pad beside each seat. On our night, the split is 61:39 towards not-guilty, which is in keeping with the consistent 60:40 split amongst the jurors at each performance, apart from China and Japan. Indeed, it is quite fascinating to look at the results’ trend, collated and documented on the show’s webpage, including note of how they fare in comparison to the timing of the terrorist attacks in Paris and Brussels.

“Terror” is a static work, which makes it an acquired taste. Still, anticipation of the verdict’s delivery makes for an interesting, interactive drama from the versatile theatre company, unlike usual theatre fair. The continuing debate amongst strangers as they depart stands as testament to both its undeniable relevance and unique engagement.

Get your tickets at www.brisbanefestival.com.au

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