When you are given a voting slip marked “Guilty – Not Guilty” upon entering the theatre your level of anticipation is immediately heightened. When you take your seat having traversed the court room set you know you are a part of what is about to unfold. Red Phoenix’s production of “Terror” by Ferdinand von Schirach revolves around whether or not a fighter pilot had a legal mandate in shooting down a hijacked civilian aircraft, thus causing the deaths of 164 passengers and crew. Directors Brant Eustace and Tracey Walker use a simple unadorned recreation of a courtroom familiar to us all. That space is occupied by the usual players in any courtroom whilst we the audience are addressed directly as the jury.
We are briefed by Presiding Judge (Sharon Malujlo) who gives a balanced, consistent and well tempered performance throughout. She is a Judge who insists that due deference be given to procedures and protocols, and so it is. The defendant Lars Koch (Fahad Farooque) has unsuccessfully carried out orders to force a change to the flight path of a hijacked passenger aircraft. He then, as a result of this tactical failure and of his own volition, has activated his weapon system resulting in the destruction of the airliner. This he argues was a more acceptable outcome than the aircraft careering into its declared target, a football stadium at its capacity with 70,000 football fans. Fahad’s performance is both dignified and controlled. He never reveals what must be going on inside his head.
Rachel Burfield (as State Prosecutor Nelson) is supremely confident and nimble in her questioning and delivery. She presents unrefutable argument that pilot Koch is guilty of murdering 164 airline passengers and crew. At no stage does pilot Koch deny this. Her counterpart, Defense Counsel Biegler, is played in a manner a little more relaxed but no less assured by Bart Csorba. His quip or two, delivered directly to us, the members of the jury, provide the only semblance of levity in the proceedings. The scenario of the play focusses on the moral and philosophical dilemma that faces the jury. It poses various hypothetical outcomes that might have been if the plane had been left to continue its flight based on various pieces of evidence that come to light and actions that might well have been taken. But this is an act of terror and events in recent decades tell us that no country knows how those cards might be shuffled let alone dealt.
Airforce Command representative Christian Lauterbach (Pete Davies) sticks to the official line in his evidence in supplying technical and operational details. At the conclusion of his evidence his expressed interest in claiming recompense for his time in court is an incongruous contrast to the appalling event that has precipitated this trial. Pete plays him well as a high ranking soulless blunt bureaucrat. Kate van der Horst (as Franziska Meiser) is the face of the families who have lost a loved one. Both polite and demure, her anguish and grief are quietly evident.
The audience was uncommonly quiet and still from the Judge’s opening statement until her closing remarks. Whilst the set was plain and courtroom-like as I have stated, my eyes were drawn to a crack, a blemish reaching part way up the Judge’s high bench. A deliberate symbol suggesting that our legal systems have inevitable imperfections perhaps? That whatever legal template we construct, our human foibles and failings will prevent the establishment of an infallible system. So, to the vote. I choose not to give the result of last night’s judgement but the participating audience was fascinated with the outcome and the sizeable gap in the conclusion. It was certainly a surprise to me and the start of much vigorous debate on the way home. It is a tribute to a fine and evenly talented cast that their words and delivery held us in such thrall. Direction was taut and intelligent and the proceedings moved with ease and purpose. We were treated to a flawless courtroom drama, and our intense concentrated interest did not waver at all. It was a thought provoking and most rewarding night at the theatre. Not to be missed.