Thursday, 22 June 2017
by Ferdinand Von Schirach
A Question of Intent
In Peter Weiss's searing stage docu-drama The Investigation using extracts from the real-life Frankfurt Trials after World War II, there is a small but telling moment when we hear that there was a form of justice within Nazi concentration camps.
Military guards were disciplined for stealing from the piles of belongings gathered from those incarcerated and murdered in the camp. This was seen as a major infraction, whereas what was happening in the camp was seen as routine and legal.
And it doesn't seem as if any of the guards in their defence protested "You're killing and robbing thousands, millions and you're accusing me of stealing?"
This could be seen as satire - if it hadn't really happened.
We didn't know the background of Ferdinand von Schirach, the writer of Terror, the "You decide" courtroom drama directed by Sean Holmes and translated by David Tushingham, before we read about him after the event.
Terror strikes us as a couched - rather too couched - satiric analysis of legal misdirection and diversion where the supposed moral conundrum can easily be dismantled in one sentence and the binary vote at the end is a palpable nonsense.
A rapid response military fighter pilot Lars Koch (Ashley Zanghaza) deployed when a civilian airplane is highjacked by a terrorist makes the decision to shoot the plane down against orders and against German constitutional law.
The motivation? The plane carrying just over 160 passengers was heading for the Allianz stadium in Munich where there were 70,000 people. Is he guilty of murder?
All the audience aka voters are promoted flatteringly by judge (Tanya Moodie) to the status of "lay judges" and the very narrow remit laid before them.
If you decide to go to Terror, by the end you might be ruminating on a seemingly knotty moral conundrum.
Alternatively you might agree even a seemingly democratic electronic voting process can become the gateway to a coup if the judge, pilot, lawyers and even the court usher, who also stands by, are so inclined.
You might, on the other hand, accept the authority of the court and view the statements made by the judge, the lawyers and the questioning of two witnesses as transparent.
Or you might question why there are only two witnesses, the military air traffic controller Lieutenant Colonel Christian Lauterbach (John Lightbody) and a passenger's wife named as "joint plaintiff" Franziska Meiser (Shanaya Rafaat) with everything else second hand through the judges and lawyers.
We'll make no bones about it. Having heard the evidence from two witnesses, the questioning and speeches of the prosecution (Forbes Masson) and defence (Emma Fielding) lawyers and something from the pilot, TLT refused to vote.
She might not be the only one because the number of abstainers was not counted - in fact we don't even know whether the final result was truly the way the audience voted.
TLT will also nip in here and say that a fact laid out by the prosecution and confirmed by the military witness demolished all subsequent arguments, although it was not included in the topsy turvy process when the judge summed up after the verdict.
We don't want to give too much more away but we'd put it like this. If TLT were a journalist covering this trial - which many will find rather dry and abstract - there is a startling news angle and headline buried in a witness's testimony and then never referred to again. A spoiler hint about the course of action which could have been taken is on this link, if you want to click on it.
Now we'll reveal what we didn't realise until after the show. Ferdinand Von Schirach, the playwright, is the grandson of the head of the National Socialist Youth movement, Baldur von Schirach, who also took part in the transportation Jewish citizens to concentration camps.
So the playwright, who is also a lawyer, has had plenty of years to consider how a murderous regime and a head of state can be voted in democratically under a seemingly "legal" veneer.
He seems also to have considered how people aren't that precise about analysing the facts against superficially logical arguments, even when it involves sacrifing hundreds of fellow citizens - if these citizens are not their nearest and dearest or vital to their well-being.
Giving this away may seem like a partial spoiler, only ... there was nothing to flag this play up as a satire and not a courtroom drama and, if they could still be bothered, many left still trying to weigh up ponderously-put moral arguments.
In other words, this was for us about words and so-called moral arguments beguiling an audience away from an indisputable fact, judging (no pun intended) by the cross section around us.
We're willing to be corrected if it's not satire and it's just that nobody's noticed previously there is a prolonged section which contradicts the whole premise.
But, although we're vain, we're really not that vain, and a postscript to the published text, with the playwright expressing his admiration for Jewish German satirist Kurt Tucholsky, does seem to give a clue.
It's perfectly good acting and direction with a suitably awe-inspiring court designed by Anna Fleischle, even if the script becomes somewhat ponderous. In other circumstances, we might give it an amber light.
However with the play marked not as a satire but as an interactive drama, "a worldwide phenomenon that's stirred debate across the globe", it feels fundamentally dishonest. For that alone we feel it should be a red light review.
It's a highly unusual situation for a TLT review - but we've laid out our prosecution and the defence. You decide.