Trigger warning: This review delves into various aspects of Prima Facie, including its depiction of sexual assault and rape.
One the plays that has had theatregoers talking this year is Prima Facie. Suzie Miller’s legal play follows the story of a criminal defence barrister, Tessa (Jodie Comer), whose world is turned upside down after she is raped as she experiences the injustice of the system in the way it treats victims of sexual assault. It is a one-woman play with BAFTA and Emmy-winning actress Jodie Comer making her West End debut in the role and she delivers a powerful performance. It’s no wonder that the play has been so successful that it is being transferred to Broadway with Comer reprising the role of Tessa. This live screening of Prima Facie was arranged by the National Theatre.
The play is written by Suzie Miller and her legal background is evident given how detailed and precise the writing is. The play premiered in Sydney in 2019, but what is nice about this production is that Miller has incorporated Comer’s Scouse background and added touches of Liverpool throughout the dialogue. Prima Facie is a play that explores the serious issue of sexual assault and how it is currently dealt with in court as victims as made to appear at fault and picked apart by defence teams. It is also a play about class as Tessa’s working class background and outlook contrasts greatly with the people she socialises with. Where Tessa has had to work extremely hard for her career, it seems almost expected of her privately educated peers that they would fall into a similar line of work.
The play starred Jodie Comer as Tessa and she completely embodies everything about the character from the moment she steps on stage. Comer has blown the world away thanks to her impeccable acting on film (The Last Duel and Free Guy) and television (Doctor Foster and Killing Eve) and now she dominates the stage. Tessa is an ambitious woman who works her way up to a successful career and along with it, finds herself socialising with the middle and upper classes. This is a far cry away from the character’s Scouse working class upbringing. What is nice about Comer’s portrayal is that it gives the actress the chance to embrace her natural accent throughout. Although the play is a one-woman show, the scene in which Tessa is raped feels extremely explicit and graphic because Comer’s performance is so intense.
The music by Self Esteem, credited as Rebecca Lucy Taylor is exceptional and feeds into the claustrophobic nature of the courtroom and the tragic assault that Tessa experiences. Before the live screening began, we were shown an exclusive performance of Self Esteem’s song “I’m Fine”. The message of the song runs through the play and is a fitting anthem for the play. Taylor’s unique sound and style is evident throughout the score for Prima Facie. The opening track “The Winner” backs
Prima Facie is a play that is difficult to watch due to the subject matter, but it is an extremely important play for the same reason. Miller’s play provides insight into the injustice in how the system deals with sexual assault cases and how wrongly the victims are treated. We see Tessa at both sides of system, starting in her role as a criminal defence barrister and using the techniques that the law permits, but in the second half of the play, she is victim to those same tactics and realises how the justice system does not deal with these cases in a fair manner.
What did you think of Prima Facie? Let me know in the comments below!