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.

Little Fires Everywhere – A perfectly timed discussion on race.

Photograph:The Radio Times

Little Fires Everywhere focuses on two mothers: Elena Richardson, a white middle class writer and all round do gooder and Mia Warren, a black artist who moves from state to state in her car with her daughter, Pearl. The two meet when Elena Richardson takes pity on Warren and allows her and Pearl to rent her apartment for free. Elena prides herself on the action and sees it as an opportunity to do good in the world, soon sparking up a friendship with Pearl, who in turn becomes close friends with her own children. The story becomes, in the most part, a discussion about race and class, but also about motherhood. Ironically released during the biggest discussion of race the world has ever seen, following from George Floyd’s murder, it is a loud and glaring discussion of white privilege in America, from dolls only being made in white, to Elena’s trust in the police department versus Mia’s fear. However, the biggest and most thoroughgoing discussion of race and motherhood comes in with a third mother, Bebe Chow, who came to America from China to give her daughter a better life. The show sees her fight for custody of Mai Ling, in a world where white always wins.

What I loved…

The acting in the series incredible; Kerry Washington undeniably owns the show with her moving portrayal of Mia Warren. However, I found the shows young cast especially impressive, specifically Tiffany Boone, who plays the younger Mia Warren in the flash back episodes. Despite having a smaller part, her ability to mimic Kerry Washington’s mannerisms and facial expressions made for an uncanny likeness. She is one to watch.

The conversations the season has is undoubtedly its most interesting feature. It is the most mainstream discussion of racial bias and how it filtrates into the minds into even the most seemingly anti-racist people, I have ever seen. This comes through most clearly in the Richardson family, in particular through Elena’s character, who despite all her good intentions, still holds biases that she herself is blind to.
Alongside and tangled up in its conversation about racism is its discussion of motherhood, in particular mother daughter relationships, which forms a relatable and moving dialogue throughout the show. The season parallels Elena’s relationship with her youngest daughter Izzy (the one she didn’t plan for) with Mia’s relationship with Pearl. Both girls experience problems with their own mother and in turn seek solace in each others. Izzy, who can’t cope with her mothers need for control enjoys the company of free spirit Mia, while Pearl, sick of having no sense security or grounding, can see the value in a tightly organised home. The fact that both girls find qualities in each others mother’s more agreeable than their own shows that the concept of a ‘good mother’ is subjective, based more on preference than truth. This dialogue is played out with Bebe’s fight to keep her daughter, when the court gets to decide what constitutes a good mother. Through these three women the show discusses the inadequacy, survival and criticism of mothers.

Little Fires Everywhere is a powerful, political, feminist watch.

9/10