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.

A Taste of Honey @Trafalgar Studios

29.02.2020

I caught the final performance of the National Theatre revived 1958 British classic A Taste of Honey at Trafalgar Studios, starring Jodie Prenger as Helen and Gemma Dobson as Jo. Walking in I was pleasantly surprised by the close nature of the auditorium, with only one tier you had to walk across the stage to reach the steps to your seat, as the cast were already on stage and the band played. This set the tone for the remainder of the play which felt very much like you were invading Helen and Jo’s flat in true kitchen-sink-drama style.

What I loved…

The comedy– It goes without saying that this piece is hilariously witty and real. Set in the North West of England it follows the relationship of two working class women, a mother and daughter, through the average to low times. Constant arguments and near bust ups, dating and parenthood the piece is a real discussion of the working class at that time.

Gemma Dobson’s performance– I find it unsurprising she won the Best Actress in a Play at The Stage Debut Awards in 2018, after having seen this performance. Originally from Leeds she had an easy transition to the Salford accent and her portrayal of sassy but compassionate Jo was both comedic and believable. Although I loved the dynamic between her and Jodie, her relationship with gay best friend Geof where she showed vulnerability and compassion, allowed her to show the depth of her abilities as an actress. Her talent matched the complexity of the script and stood out in an already talented cast.

The music – It seems as though integrating musicians within the set is a popular trend at the minute, changing the landscape of West-End theatre from the traditionally separate orchestra and cast dynamic. The instruments, much like in Girl From The North Country and Come From Away were present on stage at all times and both the piano and the drum kit were interacted with by the cast; it was an odd recognition of being a theatre piece. This time the music made the piece feel earthy, adding to the relaxed atmosphere of the living room it could have just been a record player.

If I had to moan – It seemed unusual to me that half the cast didn’t have Salford accents. It seemed this couldn’t have been a style choice to make Helen and Jo stand out, as Geof also had a Salford accent. Was this there way of making it more relatable, opening it up to the rest of the country? Or could they simply not hire enough northern actors? Either way I found that aspect of the piece confusing.

Incredible script, cast and staging. Hilarious throughout.