NT Live Prima Facie

August 18, 2022 by

On 21st July theatres and cinemas across the UK screened a production of NT Live’s Prima Facie. It was award winning actress Jodie Comer’s debut in theatre and it was certainly worth the wait.

In a solo role in Suzie Miller’s award-winning play, Comer makes us laugh, makes us cry and makes us question everything we ever thought we knew about the law in this country. Comer portrays Tess, a brilliant young barrister, in the UK debut of Suzie Millers award winning, gripping play. Tess has worked her way up from working class origins to be at the top of her game; defending; cross examining and winning. An unexpected event forces her to confront the lines where the patriarchal power of the law, burden of proof and morals diverge.

From the very beginning, Comer commands the stage with a never expending energy that drives her through 2 hours of intense drama. We see the bravado of Tess as she talks about the legal game, the thrill of the chase and the euphoria of winning cases back-to-back. She works hard and plays hard, with nights out on the town, where she dances on table with fellow lawyers and celebrates their wins. Yet we see the human side of her when she goes back to her working-class routes, her fear and worry for her brother, her closeness to her mum who always seems to smooth over any given situation with her soft Liverpool accent.

In later scenes, where Comer finds herself at the other side of the law game, as a victim of a terrible sexual assault, her mother’s appearance sooths her, and we laugh about the beach bag she uses, incredibly out of place in a law court, and the kindness she displays to her devastated daughter. We also see Tess’s sympathy when she deals with a sexual assault case earlier in her career, and a softer side to her when she embarks on a new relationship and longs for love. Ultimately this leads to harrowing truths that bring her to the other side of the legal system, fighting against and questioning something she has always believed in.

Comer manages to keep us enthralled throughout, with barely room to take a breath, as she takes us through her story from the very beginning at the top of her game, to the moment she stands before an ex-colleague, not knowing who she can trust anymore.

The stage is set as a lawyer’s chambers, with books stacked as high as the eye can see, surrounding Tess completely, emphasising she is consumed by the law she works with. The stage changes only slightly, with comer moving tables or chairs to illustrate scene changes or new characters. She is quick to change accents and voices to put across the story and holds the audience’s attention expertly. Her expression and movements are energised and she changes costume on stage, simply adding to her outfits or swapping a blouse to illustrate the place and scene.

One scene towards the final part of the play, when Tess is completely undone by what happens to her, is particularly striking. As Tess runs outside into the rain, the stage is covered in rainwater, illuminating her journey out into the unknown, searching for answers and for help from strangers. A single chair acts first as a toilet inside the house, then as a seat outside, a taxi cab and finally the interview room of a police station. It is a credit to Comer’s skills that the prop can become so alive in the story’s interpretation.

The play is written by ex-lawyer Suzi Miller and brings to light many modern issues about the way in which certain law cases and their victims are handled. A film at the beginning of the live screening offered an insight into the background of the production and the work that is being done to change the system and support victims. Miller is known for her work on ground breaking issues and Prima Facie won the Australian Writers Guild Award for Drama in 2020. The story draws us in from the very first moments and keeps us entranced until the last words are spoken. When the credits went up, the audience was silent as they gathered their things and left the theatre, aside from a few exclamations of astonishment at how good the production was.

In her debut stage performance, Comer astounds and entertains her audience throughout. As we have seen through previous roles such as BBC’s Killing Eve, Comer was made for drama. She has a unlimiting ability to make people feel and to tell a story in a unique way like no other. If you haven’t seen it yet, grab the next opportunity to see Prima Facie. You won’t be disappointed.


Image by Helen Murray

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