Prima Facie by Suzie Miller. Directed by Lee Lewis. Griffin Theatre Company. The Playhouse. Canberra Theatre Centre. Until June 28.
It is a cry too often heard and too seldom heeded: "Something's got to change!" In playwright Suzie Miller's gripping drama, Prima Facie, Tessa is a young, ambitious high flying barrister, highly respected as a successful defence lawyer. However her unflinching faith in a legal system that presumes innocence until guilt can be proven is thrown into turmoil when she finds herself the victim of sexual assault.
As Tess recounts and torturously relives the rape Miller's incisive insight and Sheridan Harbridge's brilliant performance expose with riveting impact the flawed injustice of a system, defined by a male view of the law.
"It's a game" Tess says at the start of the play, a sport like a race with the horse chomping at the bit, and with blood pumping. Griffin Theatre's Artistic Director, Lee Lewis, directs Prima Facie with the fervour of passionate conviction.
The game is deadly, the injustice of Tess's treatment shockingly palpable as is the impact of a system, established by men, in which the female victim of sexual assault must prove beyond reasonable doubt the validity of her testimony. This is not new. It is all too familiar, and Miller's play in the hands of Lewis and her creative team and an actor of the command and power of Harbridge makes a case that is irrefutable.
The power of Miller's play is not in any didactic condemnation of an immutable system, although that is implicit within its argument. What makes this play worthy of the 2018 Griffin Award is its humanity, its belief that every human being deserves justice and none more so than those victimised by laws that deny a true voice for the victims of sexual assault.
The power of Miller's play is not in any didactic condemnation of an immutable system, although that is implicit within its argument.
In a performance as plausible, as true and as emotionally galvanising as Harbridge's, Tess leads us on a journey from her nervous start as a bright young law student from a working class family to her brilliant success as a barrister, who can play the game with the best of them to her fun-loving spirited private life and initial sexual encounter with colleague Damien Brooks that led to the events of the night that Brooks allegedly raped her.
Finally, the audience is confronted by the reality of the law's treatment of Tess, the victim. It is the final infliction of humiliation and degradation.
Miller's play echoes loudly with the voice of experience. Lewis's direction is inspired, creating a fluidity of action to denote the many aspects of Tess's character. Harbridge occupies the stage alone for almost two hours, running the gamut of emotions as scenes flash back and forth between the then, the now and the later. Harbridge's emotional and physical flexibility is remarkable as she slides from the dizzy heights of adulation to the despairing abyss of victimisation.
It is not enough to say "Something must change" and do nothing, but perhaps this excellent production, written by a woman, directed by a woman and performed by a woman may and should succeed in breaking down the barriers to justice in a male dominated legal profession. Highly recommended.
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