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Review: Terror play at a secret location in Tunbridge Wells by the Trinity Theatre

By Paul Hooper

Murder trials are rarely just about right or wrong, innocent or guilty...hero or villain.

Most cases heard in our Crown Courts involve legal nuances, and arguments about mens rea and actus reus. Rarely are they about greater and lesser evils.

But that is what makes director John Martin’s production of Ferdinand von Schirach’s superb play Terror so gripping.

Terror staged by the Trinity Theatre in Tunbridge Wells
Terror staged by the Trinity Theatre in Tunbridge Wells

Defying orders from a superior, a highly skilled pilot shoots down a hijacked plane with 164 men, women and children on board to prevent it from being deliberately crashed into a packed football stadium by terrorists.

Terror is unique because it puts you at the very heart of the courtroom drama...as a member of the jury.

I have watched many murder trials (although never been summoned to appear) and have often wondered how juries came to decide on guilty or not guilty.

And being in the jury also ensures I couldn’t just sit and enjoy the actors' performances...(brilliant though they were)...because at the end of the play I had to make a decision.

I found myself listening to every word by the witnesses, making notes on my impressions and then having to justify them with my fellow jury members.

Fun? Certainly but it also made me debate in my own mind whether the killing of a few to save the majority is ever acceptable in a civilised society.

And just when I thought I had worked out my moral certainties, the writer (himself a lawyer) would slip in a couple of banana skins to make me re-examine my values...

What if my child was aboard the plane? What if my family was in the stadium? What blame should I attach to the negligence of the pilot’s superiors?

Should the state weigh one life against another to justify the killing of innocent people? Should an individual be able to make that unilateral decision?

If the play is slightly drawn out, it was worth it to just to listen to the perorations from state prosecutor Elinor Lawless (ironically a brilliant QC called Eleanor Laws appears in Kent’s courts frequently) and equally superb defence counsel, Kirsten Hazel Smith.

They delivered impassioned and well-reason arguments...interspersed with the usual legal bickering in front of a very patient judge, played by Robert Rowe. The ushers, stenographer, guard and witness helped make this as realistic as it was (the secret location was also brilliant).

Both gave compelling and flawless performances supported by the stoic and defiant pilot Lars Koch (Chris Casey) and his boss Christian Lauterbach (Vangelis Christodoulou).

Terror, which first opened three years ago in Berlin, works because it is realistic and refuses to allow the audience to avoid dealing with moral dilemma at the centre...was the pilot guilty of mass murder by shooting down the Lufthansa plane?

So how did I vote? Well it’s illegal in the UK to reveal what takes place in the secret discussions of a jury retiring room.

But I wouldn’t have missed it for anything.

* Terror is performed at a secret venue in Tunbridge Wells until Sunday, June 16. To book call 01892 678 678 or go to trinitytheatre.net/events/terror

Read more: All the latest reviews of shows across Kent and beyond

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