thu 18/07/2024

Prima Facie, Harold Pinter Theatre review - Jodie Comer sears the stage | reviews, news & interviews

Prima Facie, Harold Pinter Theatre review - Jodie Comer sears the stage

Prima Facie, Harold Pinter Theatre review - Jodie Comer sears the stage

'Killing Eve' star's stage debut is a triumph

Breathtaking: Jodie Comer takes to the stageImages - Helen Murray

National statistics tell us that, in the year ending September 2021, 41% of rape victims in England and Wales eventually withdrew their support for prosecution. That justice is not always blind may have something to do with this.

Indeed, as the Australian writer Suzie Miller’s searing play Prima Facie demonstrates, its eyes can even look the other way when it comes to sexual assault. First performed in 2019, Miller’s legal monodrama lands in the West End with a transfixing production that also marks a triumphant stage debut for Jodie Comer.

Prima Facie takes the form of a monologue delivered in present tense by Tessa, a Cambridge-educated criminal defence barrister whose career is firmly on the rise. Hailing from a working-class family, she has jumped through countless hoops to occupy the shelf-lined London office where we first meet her. Ambitious and charming, she is a staunch believer in the law, with a particular confidence in her spry ability to defend sexual assault cases, cornering complainants with merciful efficiency.

Comer, of Killing Eve fame, portrays Tessa with captivating ease, modulating gracefully between different facets of her professional and personal life. She treats the items in Miriam Buether’s imposing but agile set with confident playfulness: whether shifting around and standing on her desks, excitedly pulling folders from the surrounding shelves, or turning her chairs into witness stands, she owns the space. Her Tessa is not only a gripping storyteller, smoothly embodying a range of characters, but also a compelling commentator on the workings of the law.

But, as it happens, she is in for a very rude awakening. When a date night with a male colleague culminates in her rape, her world – and the play’s – turns upside down. Buether’s protean design, aided by Natasha Chivers’ richly textured lighting, reflects Tessa’s devastating experience as a rape victim with gut-wrenching force. Comer’s performance, too, amps up its spell on us: alternating between her accounts of the immediate aftermath of the assault and the trial that takes place over two years later, she holds and guides our attention with disarming poise. It becomes impossible to avert one’s eyes from her magnetic presence.Jodie Comer as TessaNow that she is inside the stand as a witness, Tessa comes face to face with a crucial question: can she trust the criminal justice system – the object of her longstanding respect and expertise – to protect her? As Justin Martin’s deftly paced production reaches its crescendo, Tessa’s answer emerges as a fierce roar. With its vibrant language and prevailing tone of immediacy, Miller’s play offers an intense, if slightly didactic, indictment of the ways the legal system perpetuates the patriarchal order that has created it in the first place. For all the law’s insistence that there can be no “real” truth, Tessa comes to recognise her body as the site of an incontrovertible truth.

The relevance of this unsettling drama for our present moment of #MeToo is obvious. In joining the ranks of such works as Michaela Coel’s I May Destroy You and Nina Raine’s Consent, Prima Facie draws vitally from Comer’s breathtaking performance in delivering its unique punches. Also indispensable to its impact is the sheer amount of suspense that Martin packs into his staging through Ben and Max Ringham’s menacingly rhythmic sound design and Rebecca Lucy Taylor’s sleek musical compositions.

If, as Tessa tells us, a lawyer’s job is to “not know,” then Prima Facie is proud to be unlawyerly in its aims. Mesmerising us with Tessa’s intimate voice, Miller’s play asks that we lean in and learn what it feels like to inhabit a mind and a body that have been victimised first by a perpetrator and then by a legal system. What we come to know is certainly disturbing, but, as in all great theatre, it strikes one as a true privilege to have made the journey.


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