Prima Facie, Griffin Theatre Co | Review

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Raw, emotional and heartfelt, Suzie Miller’s Prima Facie is a powerful and urgent call to arms against the injustice that is the Australian justice system for survivors of sexual assault.

Tessa is a hotshot criminal defence lawyer who loves the justice system and loves to win. She believes in the power and virtue of the law, and her place in it. But when she is the victim of a sexual assault, her faith in the courts is first shaken, then cracked, then utterly ripped to shreds.

Sheridan Harbridge is no stranger to playing complex female characters, and Tessa is no exception. Her character is a minefield of controversy – she’s a smart, driven, fast-talking defence lawyer, upper-middle-class, embraces her sexuality, and a victim of sexual assault brave enough to speak up. These are things women around the world are vilified for, but to tell this story she must, must get us onside.

And she does. In Prima Facie, Miller gives Tessa the dignity that the legal system and the media so often take away from survivors of sexual assault. Her excruciating experience is embedded in the life of a classic working-class Aussie woman from Western Sydney who twitches with glee when chatting with a friend on the phone, chops veggies with her mum, and loves a good boogie on a Friday night.

Lighting, sound and costuming in Prima Facie emulate the concept of ‘less is more’. Harbridge plays with the light and shadow of a single spotlight to mark the passing of time, while sound emulates a heartbeat building anticipation, dread, and sometimes outright panic. Tessa’s costume changes only once when she swaps her black blazer for a bright red one, clearly marking ‘before’ and ‘after’.

Miller explores the worst-case scenario in Prima Facie, but every woman can relate to the discomfort and feelings of powerlessness in Tessa’s story. Harbridge authentically embodies the modern-day feminist experience, knowing that she’s not to blame for her assault but constantly questioning and doubting herself with a vulnerability and steely resolve that makes her story all the more compelling.

Prima facie hurts. Harbridge is captivating from beginning to end, confronting but also walking alongside the audience as we grappled with the implications her fictional story has for the real world. I came out of the Seymour Centre silent, drove home in a bit of a daze and cried because, as Tessa finds out, the way we deal with such a common crime – one in three women in Australia will be sexually assaulted in their life – is just not good enough.

Miller’s fearlessness in covering a version of sexual assault that so often is not recognised as a crime is admirable, as is her ability to dissect and debunk every sexist trope used to punish women for the crimes committed against them. Far from being just another play, Prima Facie is a public service crash course in why things need to change. I want it so desperately to be enough. It won’t be. But it’s another step closer.

Wine Pairing | Shiraz

Shiraz packs a big personality into every ruby-red glass, which is exactly what a story like Prima Facie needs – anything less would fade away under its weight.

My Pick: Elderton Estate 2018 Barossa Shiraz

Dry and outspoken on the nose and palate, this Shiraz has a lovely velvety tannin and a lingering aftertaste, which is fitting considering how long I’ll be thinking about the play. Its bold cacophony of fruit, spice and earthy notes allow it to stand on its own, but it’s still accessible and has enough complexity to keep you sipping.

A bottle will cost between $24-30, worth every penny.

Tasting Notes

Aussie Season24 Nov to 11 Dec 2021, Griffin Theatre Co, Seymour Centre
Ticket $$38-62
WriterSuzie Miller
DirectorChantelle Mayo
Theatre Type & GenreOne-woman play, political, legal, feminist
See it if you likeconfronting uncomfortable truths, representations of Aussie family and political life, minimalist productions
Other Info2018 Griffin Award, 2020 AWGIE for Drama and 2020 David Williamson Prize for Outstanding Theatre Writing
Wine PairingShiraz
Criteria for Wine Pairingbold, rich flavours, high body and intensity