A hijacked plane is heading for a football stadium filled with 70,000 people. A fighter pilot goes against orders and shoots the plane down, sacrificing the lives of 164 people in order to save 70,000. He is put on trial for mass murder. Guilty or not guilty? The audience is jury.
On the face of it it looks like a no-brainer – 164 to save 70,000? – and I’m sure I am not the only one who had already made up her mind in advance how she was going to vote. The clever thing about this play however, which takes place entirely in a courtroom, is the issues it throws up that makes one question one’s foregone conclusions. Without giving away any spoilers this case is not quite as cut-and-dried as it first looks.
It is also unusual in that whereas in most murder trials the defendant is innocent until proved guilty and the onus is on the prosecution to prove guilt ‘beyond reasonable doubt’, the onus here is on the defendant and his counsel to prove that what he did was ‘beyond all reasonable doubt’ wholly justified. In other words that it was the only thing he, or someone in his position, could or should possibly have done.
There is the law, and there is philosophy, and there is human gut reaction. A few dodgy premises emit from both sides. A lot of questions remained unanswered – or rather, unasked. How did the pilot know his shot plane would not fall on buildings, or people, on the ground? How could he be sure the plane would kill all 70,000 people in the stadium? And so on and so on.
The verdict last night was not guilty, as it seems to have been throughout the run. Me, I voted guilty, partly for the reasons above. I believe the prosecuting counsel could have put a better case.
Does it make for compelling theatre? Well yes and no. A court case is static, I did feel fidgety at times. And it might have been interesting to have given the prosecution a little more weight so the final verdict wasn’t so predictable. But it is intriguing to have one’s preconceptions challenged in such a way. Thought-provoking, absolutely. And excellently performed all round.
Terror runs at the Lyric Hammersmith until 15 July.