Arts

Theatre Review: Prima Facie

Implacably brilliant

Implacably brilliant
5

Presented by: State Theatre Company South Australia
Reviewed: 2 May, 2023

Prima facie [legal term] Meaning: ‘on the face of it’. A one-hander with a Latin title isn’t the likeliest show to get a theatre full of jaded Adelaide patrons leaping spontaneously to their feet on a cold Tuesday night. Yet that’s what Caroline Craig’s performance of Suzie Miller’s monster script achieved tonight. See this show with an open mind. Allow its arguments to interrogate your values, beliefs and practices. See where this sociolegal rollercoaster ride takes you.

In a solo performance lasting over 100 minutes, actress Caroline Craig becomes Tessa Ensler and tells her story. Tessa is a smart, career-focussed working-class girl who topped her class in law and became a criminal defence barrister. She now works with a respected law firm, relishing the cut-and-thrust game of criminal law. She’s shrewd, perceptive and practical. She also nourishes a belief in the impartiality of the law and the value of thinking like a criminal lawyer. Yet, when she experiences sexual assault, she finds herself victim of the very legal processes which she has deftly wielded for years as a barrister.

It’s the writing that hits you first. It’s everything it needs to be, and then some. Playwright Suzie Miller has practised both criminal and human rights law. Her eye is merciless and her ear, accurate. The prose is both lucid and intelligent. The narrative teems with characters; recognisable, sharp social snapshots sketched with economic language. There’s wry wit, laughs and affectionate caricatures. Craig revels in this Dickensian range of people and renders them with relish.

Direction by David Mealor is so good it’s unobtrusive, yet affords Craig all the breadth she needs to encompass the richness of Miller’s writing. Jo Stone’s skill as a Movement Consultant enhanced the immediacy and intensity of the narrative.

The proportions of designer Kathryn Sproul’s deceptive set place the single performer in the centre of an expanse. Tessa is clearly out on her own, with full-height diaphanous curtains surrounding her, and only a single chair on stage. Nic Mollison’s lighting, sometimes distancing, sometimes friendly and familiar, works closely with each nuance of the piece. Quincy Grant’s music deserves specific applause. Restrained, intelligent, and always entirely appropriate to the dramatic moment.

Carolyn Craig’s physical, vocal and emotional commitment to the work is phenomenal. For just under two hours it is Craig’s clear voice alone which creates the multitude of characters Tessa vividly shows us. This is, in itself, a feat of theatrical athleticism. Craig’s emotional energy and intense physical energy drive the play to its dramatic conclusion.

There are many aspects of theatrical skill to praise in this splendid production, but its greatest strength lies in its ideas. Amongst other matters, it questions the degree of support and protection that our current legal system affords complainants of sexual assault. By the end of the performance, I felt as if I had been run over. And this was exactly as it should have been.

Reviewed by Pat H. Wilson

Photo credit: Matt Byrne

Venue: Space Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre
Season: 28th April – 13th May, 2023
Duration: 1 hour 40 minutes (approx.)
Tickets: $75:00. (Concession $65:00)
Bookings: https://my.statetheatrecompany.com.au/overview/prima-face

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