Venue: SBW Stables Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), May 17 – Jun 22, 2019
Playwright: Suzie Miller
Director: Lee Lewis
Cast: Sheridan Harbridge
Images by Brett Boardman
Tessa is proud of her success as a criminal defence barrister, and when we first meet her in Suzie Miller’s Prima Facie, her faith in the legal system seems a matter of course, for a young woman going places in the field of law. When the tables turn however, and Tessa finds herself on the prosecution side as a victim of rape, she discovers severe fallibility in the way we serve justice, especially in cases of sexual assault. Miller’s breathtaking new work is full of passion, propelled by an urgent need to bring change to these deeply problematic processes, that are patently incapable of providing appropriate redress to plaintiffs who are almost exclusively women.
Miller is precise and thorough, in her careful storytelling. She engages our hearts and minds, for a stirring theatrical experience, perfectly suited to our current climate of #MeToo heightened social consciousness. Prima Facie makes its arguments convincingly, and crystal clear, and we leave sharing in the passionate intensity of its perspectives. Actor Sheridan Harbridge holds us captive for the entire 100 minutes, of her spellbinding one-woman show. It is an extraordinary achievement, with Harbridge able to convey authenticity at every stage, whilst keeping us zealously engaged with the issues being presented. She is entertaining, confident, and persuasive, fabulously well-rehearsed in what is clearly an immense challenge for any performer. Her memory seems a freak of nature, but it is her ability to make us care so deeply that is truly marvellous.
It is a meticulously rendered production, by director Lee Lewis who maintains a minimal surface, and then channels all her intelligence and energy into making every subliminal dimension of the show communicate with a tremendous power. Subtle design elements offer inconspicuous manipulations, to ensure that we respond appropriately with the play’s intentions. Renée Mulder’s set and costumes are chic and suitably severe. Trent Suidgeest’s unassuming lighting transformations help us perceive nuances in the text, and Paul Charlier’s music keeps our pulses fluctuating in accordance with the show’s varying emotional states.
Our democracy has failed women on many fronts. We operate within systems created by a powerful few, believing in the promises and lies that it dispenses. We follow its rules, thinking that all are being treated with justice and fairness; we behave ourselves and we work hard, indoctrinated into thinking that doing the right thing will always be rewarded. Tessa finds out the hard way, that without enough women at the top, those of us at the bottom will only ever be violated. It is hard to imagine a hierarchy that works for everyone. As long as there are powerful people, there will be those who are left powerless. Essentially, Prima Facie asks for the patriarchy to be smashed, but what its replacement looks like, is still as yet undecided.