The Londoness


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Review: Jodie Comer in Prima Facie

I have just witnessed Jodie Comer performing a feat which even nine lives Villanelle wouldn’t be able to pull off: a one-hundred-minute solo performance on stage in Prima Facie at the Harold Pinter theatre, without an interval and hardly pausing for breath. She even manages to get drenched, dry off, change outfits – and accents – and do it all with the poise and professionalism of an actress many years her senior. But this is in fact Comer’s debut on the West End stage, and it’s left the entire audience both crying and whooping during the standing ovation.

Prima Facie is Suzie Miller’s brainchild, someone who knows a thing or two about the play’s subject matter as she was a former legal eagle. The play won the Australian Writers’ Guild Award for Drama, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it goes on to win several Oliviers, not to mention Tonys, if it makes the hop over to Broadway. It’s skilfully directed by Justin Martin, with set design by Miriam Buether and seriously clever lighting design by Olivier-award winner Natasha Chivers.

Comer plays Tessa, a young, ruthless and successful barrister who pushes through the boundaries of gender and class to get to the top of her game. She specialises in getting men off sexual assault charges, initially dumbing herself down in court only to show how formidable she is as she goes in for the final kill. She believes in the system: “the law is the law.” She’s sassy, arrogant, confident and brilliant. The Liverpudlian actress’s accent hangs over Tessa, subtle at first but waltzing in and out of the evening as if to remind us of her working class roots.

But suddenly, Tessa’s life implodes when a colleague rapes her whilst they are out on a date. She decides to pursue a rape charge, but she is now on the other side of the stand – and it’s crushing. One minute, she’s in the saddle, master of her universe, and the next, she’s drowning in patriarchal legal quicksand.

Tessa reminds us that statistically, one in three women in the room have been victims of sexual assault. She’s angry, frustrated, sad and bewildered as she is defeated – and humiliated – by the legal system which she so vociferously supported. The play asks some tough questions about sexual consent, violence, power and the lack of justice for women, all with a thundering call for change.

The evening will leave you gasping at Comer’s commanding and nuanced performance. But it’s not all angst and despair– there’s a lot of humour and wit during the 100-minute play. At one point, Comer pulls off a vomiting scene with hilarity and even manages to look sexy in the process.

Prima Facie is an urgent, unflinching drama. Whether you’ve been the victim of assault, or you know someone who has been, we were all Tessa in the room. I was her, you were her, Comer was her, and I’ve never witnessed anything quite like it in a theatre before.

Prima Facie Jodie Comer

How to get tickets for Prima Facie

It’s a sold-out run, but there are a couple of other ways you can get Prima Facie tickets:

– 30 Pay What You Can tickets are released at 10am every Wednesday for every performance the following week. To join the queue, click here.

– A limited number of standing tickets are available at the box office on the day of performance. Head over to the Harold Pinter Theatre, Panton St, London SW1Y 4DN to try your luck.

– And if all else fails, the good news is you can watch a live recording of Prima Facie in cinemas around the world on July 21 with NT Live. Click here for tickets and participating cinemas.

Prima Facie | Harold Pinter Theatre | On until 18 June | Run time: 100 minutes | More information.

A London arts and culture blog featuring articles about art, theatre, opera, dance, music and design.

4 Comments

  • Ian Jones

    April 22, 2022 at 2:06 pm

    I completely agree! I was in the front row at yesterday’s matinee performance and it was a life-changing experience! Jodie is a brilliant actress. According to the programme, it was her stage debut, not just her West End debut. She took the first 20 minutes at a breakneck speed – a more experienced stage actress might have developed the text a little more – but once she was into her stride, she commanded your attention completely for the next hour. So many great moments. The audience interaction. The ‘set piece’ routines. The Villanelle handbrake turns as she switches her voice and intonation. The closing speech to the audience. Bravo! I just want to see it again! I can’t wait for the NT Live performance to see how she takes the role even further. Already a shoo-in for the acting awards (not forgetting Suzie Miller for the writing too), this is a confident, assured performance from one of our most remarkable, modest, and relatable stars.

    Reply

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