8th June 2019
John Martin and the team at Trinity are staging Terror, a piece of interactive theatre set in a ‘courtroom’ where the audience are the jury and therefore determine the outcome. We cross-examine John to find out why he decided to bring this experimental type of drama to the area
Tell us a little bit about Terror without giving too much away?
The only thing that we can’t give away is where the courtroom is! The play takes place like a real trial where the audience is asked to consider the evidence that is put before them. It has been performed all over the world in many different languages and is set in Germany. It is the story of a pilot who is on trial for murder having shot down a passenger plane with 164 people on it, against orders, to save 70,000 people in a football stadium in Berlin.
Why did you decide to take on this particular piece – what was its key appeal?
I initially read a review of the Lyric Hammersmith production, which piqued my interest. I love legal dramas and this seemed to me to be a superb piece of interactive theatre where the audience determines the outcome. I then had the idea of placing it in a real courtroom, much in the way that a witness for the prosecution does.
What are the challenges involved in putting on this kind of spontaneous theatre?
I have been working on this project since August 2017. It has been a long and arduous process of negotiating both the rights for the play and to secure the location. This is a venture into the unknown for me, the actors and the production team! The wonderful volunteers at Trinity are going to be court ushers, who will be guiding the audience from the initial ‘meet’ location to the courtroom and then through to their deliberations. This is going to be as close to being on jury service as we can make it.
What is your chief aim with Terror?
To immerse the audience in a real trial and give them as close an experience as possible to what it is like to be on jury service. In a world where we seem to be instantly jumping to conclusions on the basis of what is on social media, I think this play is particularly pertinent in asking an audience to reflect and consider the evidence – and only the evidence. We have been exceptionally lucky to have the advice of Major Warren Mahoney, who is also military advisor to Warhorse, to give two members of the cast who are high-ranking Air Force pilots the right advice. We have also been lucky enough to receive legal advice as well from a leading barrister.
What has the reception to Terror coming to Tunbridge Wells been like?
So far audiences seem to be really excited, particularly with the idea that they will be having an experience of jury service!
How are ticket sales going, and is there an appetite for this type of theatre locally?
So far ticket sales have been extremely good with many shows sold out, which has taken me a bit by surprise! I am holding back a few tickets which may be released nearer the time but other than that there are only a few performances where people can secure tickets. It is possible that we might extend the run but there are considerable logistics involved in doing this, so it is by no means guaranteed!
When did you start rehearsals?
We have been in rehearsal since the end of May in the actual court room, which has been absolutely fantastic. This has enabled us to start working on the challenges of working in this wonderful (but still secret) location. We are still experimenting with balancing between the reality of where we are and the fact that we are, after all, putting on a play which needs to be engrossing drama.
Was it easy to pick your cast, and have any of them done this type of theatre before?
We had an amazing 2,198 actors apply to be in the production. This is by far the largest number for anything I have ever done! Partly this may have been because we said that we were open to any gender/ethnicity on the casting notice. I am thrilled that we have a diverse cast and have been “gender blind”. We have cast what I believe to be the very strongest team that we could find.
Have you been inspired by the likes of fellow immersive theatre troupes such as Punch Drunk when putting Terror together?
Absolutely! I have been lucky enough to see The Drowned Man in London and Sleep No More – which have been two of the best experiences that I have had. What particularly inspires me about them is how they balance reality with theatricality. I will also be playing with introducing music and sound.
What will people get from seeing your production of Terror?
If we manage to get this right, they will have a thrilling courtroom drama that will stimulate them and give them an exciting evening in the theatre and also an insight into the judicial process. I have been saying to the cast that I do not wish us to have a point of view and to present both arguments so as to place the outcome entirely in the hands of the audience.
Terror touches on many issues both philosophical and legal, and consists entirely of evidence. Ferdinand von Schirach, the playwright, is also a renowned lawyer, which is completely evident in the script in the detail of the arguments. What I think is brilliant about it is that no matter what your views when you go into it – namely is the man guilty or not guilty – you will find those assumptions challenged.
How Terror will work
The outcome of the play is entirely in the hands of the audience. There are four juries at every performance, and each will elect a foreman and deliver its verdict in court. We also have a plan if it is a tie, namely two guilty and two not guilty. I am really excited to find out what the audience thinks and how the play changes at each performance.
On the casting process
It was a very, very difficult decision to make. I ultimately held four recall auditions where I called four separate casts and told them to consider the audition as more of a workshop. I could have cast this play four times over and it was heart-breaking to say no to some of the actors. This is my least favourite part of the casting process but I know that the final cast that we have assembled represents the very best to bring this particular play to life. Interestingly in these ‘workshops’ I asked our judge to reach a verdict and we had two ‘not guilty’ and two ’guilty’ verdicts. I hope that this is an indication of the variety of outcomes that we can expect from the run itself.
Terror is on daily until June 16. Evening performances are at 7pm and matinees are at 2pm on Saturdays and 2.30pm on Sundays. Tickets cost from £32 per person – to book , visit www.trinitytheatre.net