Written by Suzie Miller
Griffin Theatre Company
The Playhouse, Canberra Theatre Centre to 29 June
Reviewed by Len Power 26 June 2019
In ‘Prima Facie’, a successful young lawyer finds herself on the other side of the courtroom after a sexual assault by a colleague. Her journey from incident to judgement is a powerful indictment against a legal system shaped by male experience, its handling of sexual assault cases and our own complacency for allowing it to happen.
Suzie Miller has written an extraordinary one woman play with a compelling story line. It focuses on Tess, a lawyer with many courtroom successes under her belt and an invincible attitude that isn’t very likeable. How her life changes as a result of being raped by a colleague is the centre of this disturbing play. Required to provide intimate details in the witness box of her relationship with the accused and the alleged rape, she finds the scrutiny and cross-examination confusing and humiliating.
The point is strongly made in the play that if a lawyer, normally at home in the courtroom, falls apart under cross-examination, what hope is there for any other woman? In addition, it is clear that the woman, although technically a witness in the case, is treated more like a villain than the accused. Things need to change and this play really has you thinking about it.
Suzie Miller writes clearly and unemotionally, allowing the facts of the case and its devastating effects to speak for themselves.
With so much depth of character and emotion to play with, Tess, the lawyer, is a gift of a role for an actor. Sheridan Harbridge’s marathon performance is compelling. She wisely doesn’t overplay the emotional content and commands the stage from start to finish. Dislikeable and smug as the successful lawyer, the change in her after she is raped is quite extraordinary. It’s almost like another performer takes over the role from that point.
Director, Lee Lewis has given the play an excellent production. Tight direction ensured the play flows smoothly and clearly and her work with the performer has resulted in realism and depth to a very high degree.
There is a powerful and focussed set design by Renée Mulder, a subtle lighting design by Trent Suidgeest and an ominous and effective sound design by Paul Charlier.
This is an important and deeply involving play, superbly directed and acted.
Photos by Brett Boardman
Len Power’s reviews are also broadcast on the Artsound FM 92.7 ‘In the Foyer’ program on Mondays and Wednesdays at 3.30pm.