Prima Facie @ Harold Pinter Theatre

Photo credit: Helen Murray

Prima Facie, starring Jodie Comer, is a one-woman show depicting the growth of a working-class girl from the North of England, Tessa, as she goes through law school. Thrilled by the challenge which practising law presents her (spot any inconsistencies in a testimony so that it cannot possibly be believed beyond reasonable doubt) Tessa sails through her studies as a lawyer and begins winning cases. However, when she becomes a victim of sexual assault, her conviction that the justice system works for all is challenged. 

Anybody who has seen Killing Eve will know that Jodie Comer thrives in multi-role play, and this piece is no exception. Throughout the piece Jodie presents two versions of Tessa. Her ‘authentic self’ – when at home with her family, or in monologue to the audience – where she speaks in a thick Liverpudlian accent using colloquial language, and her ‘improved self’ – when in dialogue with her fellow law students- where her accent is significantly muted. The show follows this see-sawing effect, only departing when she embodies a new character altogether, in turn offering more voices, postures and gaits. Her ability to carry the piece with its several characters was impressive but not surprising. 

The staging of the piece was simple in theme, adopting a courtroom-styled stage, with two large wooden desks centre stage, as case files formed the walls of the stage. The simplicity of the set allowed Jodie to manipulate the desks to suit each scene, whether that’s standing on them when speaking in a courthouse, or dancing on them at a nightclub, the desks were transformed to suit the setting. This was a necessary component of such a fast-paced piece and the courtroom style served a looming presence in the later, more sinister scenes. 

The content of the script was witty but poignant. Highlighting first the class and gender imbalances in top universities, before delving deep into the often blurry, and traumatic recollections of sexual assault. The show proves that the justice system’s principle of beyond reasonable doubt, which was developed in 1935, unsurprisingly fails to succeed in prosecuting the guilty, and protecting the innocent in crimes in all cases, most especially when the recollection of events is blurry or witnesses lacking.

I won’t give any more away here, other than to say this is a transformative piece, with a simultaneously hilarious and heartbreaking performance from Jodie Comer.

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