The hottest day of the year, and the hottest June day since the mid-70’s, and Milly and I were off to spend the evening in a stifling, windowless theatre to watch the UK Premiere of Ferdinand von Schirach’s thrilling courtroom drama, Terror. A worldwide phenomenon that has been stirring debate across the globe.
A play unlike any other I have seen before, the ending lies in the hands of the audience who are the judge and jury of a murder case that raises questions that leave the audience questioning not only their own morality but the morality of others.
A hijacked plane is heading towards a packed football stadium. Ignoring orders to the contrary a fighter pilot shoots the plane down killing 164 people to save 70,000. Put on trial and charged with murder, the fate of the pilot is in the audience’s hands.
Set in the present day in Germany, a courtroom is the scene of this play. With the defendant, his counsel, the judge and the prosecutor on stage for the duration, a few secondary characters appear as witnesses to give the audience, the jury, the full story of the events that unfolded. This is a play that discusses issues that are extremely relevant to today, especially with the rising threat of terrorist attacks and the social unease within the community.
The acting throughout was impressive (especially considering the heat), though few of the characters had a need to display too much intense emotion. Due to the nature of the play, offering up the cold hard fact in order to allow for a fair verdict, much of the dialogue and delivery was structured and lacking in much complexity, with the exception of one of the witness testimonies. It’s unusual to still enjoy a play that literally could have been read straight from the script, because, for me, the enjoyment of this play was the cerebral element; the bits that made you question your own morals and beliefs, and what you believe to be right and wrong. Being asked to question whether, in the same situation, you would commit mass murder for the greater good, and what the value is on a human life. It’s fascinating, and debate provoking and I would say it is a must see.
Having said all of that though, the characters are all believable and interesting. It’s interesting how impartiality becomes a struggle when the characteristics or mannerisms of certain characters become endearing or annoying – I wonder if that is done on purpose Speaking with the staff of the Lyric before the play it was interesting to hear that one girl who has seen the play a handful of times now has had her opinion swayed with multiple viewings, and her verdict has gone from one of innocent to guilty. In some performances, the margin has been so slim between the two, while in others it has been a landslide. What is intriguing is that in London specifically, where so far each performance has returned a Not Guilty verdict, the audience has cheered upon hearing the result. It would appear that for a city which has voted so much in the last few years only to have their vote lose, to finally get the result they voted for is a bit of much-needed relief! Perhaps it is a sense of much-needed justice in the city. Perhaps we just like to have our convictions finally justified.
What is also interesting is to see how the verdicts have played out around the world as the play has toured. Of the 335,678 jurors that have watched the play, 61% have returned an innocent verdict, however for each play that took place in China and Japan (6 performances in total) every single verdict came back guilty. In Germany, the setting of the play, there have been 1099 Trials, of which 1003 were found Not Guilty, and in Hungary, Switzerland and Poland there was a 100% Not Guilty verdict. The full stats can be found here but I would be intrigued to understand and learn how a guilty verdict could be found and the logic behind it, having personally voted Not Guilty in my trial’s performance. Before the play and during the interval, Milly and I were able to take advantage of the breeze which had found its way to the terrace where guests can enjoy drinks and food (the burgers look superb), whether they are seeing a play or not. For weeks like this one, there are fewer places better equipped to deal with hot and flustered girls desperately seeking a refreshing drink! There is plenty of seating, but you can also perch yourself around the edge and take in the views of Hammersmith… not the prettiest view in London but us Londoners will never turn our noses up at anything a terrace has to offer, especially in this heat!
The Lyric Bar & Grill is an obvious choice for pre or post theatre dining, meanwhile on the ground floor, Peyton & Byrne’s bakery and café opens out on to Lyric Square and serves a delicious all day menu Chelsea buns at breakfast, superfood salads and hand-made pies at lunch, alongside delectable cakes and sweet treats throughout the day.
‘Terror’ will be running at the Lyric Hammersmith until the 15th July. For an evening of thought-provoking entertainment which will leave you questioning humanity (and who doesn’t want that?!), I would urge you to buy a ticket to see this play. Book yourself in here and then let me know how you voted.
Thanks to Dan at Society of London Theatre for inviting me along to the press night.