Review: Prima Facie

Jodie Comer makes an impressive West End debut in Suzie Miller’s Prima Facie, a one-woman play about a lawyer who specialises in sexual assault cases until she is herself assaulted and finds herself on the other side of the courtroom.

The first half of the play is fast-paced and punchy and sees Comer’s character Tessa, a Liverpudlian lawyer with working-class roots, give a theatrical play-by-play as to how she successfully shoots down witnesses and prises apart victims’ claims.

The 100-minute play, staged by Justin Martin, sees Comer on stage alone the entire time, rattling off sharp witty dialogue, jumping up on tables, lighting candles, changing costumes and moving sets – somewhat of a tall order, but something that Comer handles with complete ease.

Despite the highly energetic and darkly comic start, the tone shifts dramatically into the second half after Tessa is raped by a fellow barrister.

Recalling events from that night, Tessa cross-examines and picks holes in her own story: Why did she shower immediately after, removing all evidence? Why didn’t she scream for help? Did she say no?

Through her own experience of now having her body, character and story scrutinised, Tessa realises the fundamental flaws in the system that she has dedicated her life to, a system that has been shaped by "generations and generations of men", she says.

The legal system, which Tessa now realises "spins on the wrong axis", relies on challenging and picking apart the victim’s story regardless of trauma, whilst the accused sits silent – something that Tessa experiences first-hand.

Comer’s performance is riveting; she takes us on a journey as we see Tessa go from a hot-shot, confident barrister to a voiceless victim let down by the law that she always relied upon.

Despite having little to no theatre experience, Comer uses her shapeshifting talents to morph into multiple characters within the narrative, vividly helping the story to come alive. She plays the comedic parts just as well as she does the heart-breaking moments towards the end of the performance, highlighting the versatility that we’ve seen from her on-screen.

Not only is Prima Facie an incredible piece of theatre, but it also highlights how the law fails to protect women who are victims of sexual assault.

In the final moments of the play, Comer speaks directly to the audience, saying, "Look to your right, look to your left, one in three women are victims of sexual assault,"; a horrifying contrast to the first half of the play when Tessa talks about how one in three people don’t succeed in making it as a lawyer.

It's safe to say that at the end of the 100 minutes, there was not a dry eye in the theatre, and that includes Comer, who cries throughout the second half. But it’s clear that Prima Facie’s message about the treatment of sexual assault victims is urgent, and Comer’s performance only reiterates this.

Some would say it’s too soon to tell, but Kindred. would put money on Comer and Prima Facie sweeping the awards at the Olivier’s in 2023.