Through Empire Street Productions, Suzie Miller delivers her stunning new play, Prima Facie, under a pre-recording from National Theatre Live to cinemas across the UK. The play works in partnership with Schools Consent Project, which aims to educate pupils in secondary schools about the vital importance of sexual consent and their ability to say no to any situations that feel uncomfortable. It stars an award-winning cast consisting solely of Jodie Comer.
Comer has already proven to be a phenomenal actress who can convince us with displays of overwhelming emotion in certain performances (Bovril Pam, Vicky Jones) whilst playing with the eerie absence of it in others (Killing Eve, Pheobe Waller-Bridge). She has the capability to capture attention in every second of her acting, even as a stand-alone, often monological character. As the only performer on stage, Prima Facie recognises her talents and uses its form to highlight her strengths. It is as if she tells the audience a story, filled with tension and determination, delivering an eloquent and emotional spoken piece that is almost two hours long.
The plot concerns the character of Tessa, a criminal court barrister who has worked her way up from a working-class background. She is ruthlessly driven by her unbreakable spirit and determined to win every case she participates in. Her competitive mentality has led her to become a specialised lawyer in sexual abuse cases, where she nonchalantly allows the perpetrator to win. She justifies this to herself by believing that it is not her job to be sympathetic, but instead to obediently follow the rules of the law. This all changes in her fifth year of law school when she becomes a victim herself, and she embarks on a journey to bring her abuser to justice, all whilst empowering her audience to keep fighting for themselves when shrouded by doubt, trauma and injustice.
For anyone who has undergone such a horrifying event, the play is sure to bring back many difficult memories and feelings, but even still, to watch it alone does not feel like an isolating experience. It emphasises the harrowing statistic that one in three women have been abused at least once in their lives, one in three of the people sat beside you in the audience. You are watching this — relating to this — together. When you acknowledge the unspoken truths in the room, the experience is silently cathartic.
The incredible soundtrack to the play was written by Self Esteem. Emotionally raw and encapsulating the voice of a bleeding heart, the theme song I’m Fine highlights a sluggish desperation to keep oneself afloat in the aftermath of a breach of their human rights. The track closes with the abrupt round of dog barks because “nothing terrifies a man more than a woman who pays completely deranged”, depicting how personal defense borders on the inhuman. These are the humiliating acts we are forced to carry out to keep ourselves safe in a morally questionable society.
With its sensitive storytelling, this modern masterpiece preaches a narrative we should work to change: frightening, unacceptable statistics, and a rigid job sector which is plagued not by sympathy, but with the sole desire to win.