Prima Facie: An Intense and Thought-Provoking Journey

Prima Facie Rating

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Prima facie—a Latin phrase meaning “at first sight” or “based on first impression”—is used in civil and criminal law to denote that a legal claim has sufficient evidence to proceed to trial upon initial examination.

Prima Facie opens with defence barrister Tessa Ensler (played by Sophia Forrest) confidently sauntering onto the stage, ready to tackle her latest court case. Tessa is in her element, prepared to interrogate and break down her witness, determined to continue a several-month winning streak. The script voices Tessa’s inner thoughts, providing a blow-by-blow account of her strategies and tactics. We learn that her impressive win streak includes several sexual assault cases.

The dialogue in this one-woman show utilizes Tessa’s internal monologue throughout, allowing us to follow her journey intimately. Through Tessa’s thoughts, we meet the significant people in her life and experience the play’s events. Sound effects skillfully enhance the emotional depth of the opening scene, conveying an additional current to Tessa’s thoughts and underlying emotions, allowing the audience to connect with her immediately.

As the play progresses, Tessa’s seemingly upward journey is disrupted by an event that leaves her questioning everything she knows. Her previously slick demeanour gives way to confusion and vulnerability, depicting the emotional turmoil of seeking justice and needing to be believed. The play explores the toll on her personal and professional life as she grapples with shattered illusions and seeks justice. Has she been unfair in her past treatment of victims in court interrogations?

What will the aftermath of this event mean for her? Will she be believed? Will justice be served? Will the perpetrator walk free? Will her voice be heard?

Congratulations must go to the production team for compiling a finely-tuned show. The set, costumes, sound, and transitions blend together seamlessly. The large stage is cleverly utilized, with versatile wooden boxes transforming into various props for each scene. The backdrop shifts smoothly, with a revolving stage component used cleverly in scene transitions, depicting locations from courtrooms to nightclubs. Visual media elements add tension at critical moments, offering visual insights into Tessa’s inner journey and effectively depicting time shifts in the play’s action.

  • Director: Kate Campion
  • Set Designer: Bruce McKinven
  • Set Realizer: Andy Cross
  • Costume Designer: Lynn Ferguson
  • Lighting Designer: Peter Young
  • Composer & Sound Designer: Melanie Robinson
  • Audio Visual Designer: Jessica Russell

Sophia Forrest’s outstanding performance anchors this intense one-woman show. Forrest adeptly portrays multiple roles, guiding the audience through Tessa’s transformation from a confident lawyer to a victim seeking redemption. Through the internal monologue, she effectively embodies the slick lawyer, interrogator, interrogatee, victim, daughter, sister, judge, and judged.

Enough credit cannot be given to Sophia Forrest for the remarkable effort in tackling the immense content of the role with skill and finesse. One can only imagine(shudder at) the mountains of preparation required to portray this role so successfully. A shoutout to understudy Holly Easterbrook, who must also have undertaken a similar journey in terms of effort and preparation.

The play’s heavy themes are thought-provoking and resonate deeply. You won’t necessarily leave the theatre with a light heart, but you will leave with plenty to think about, having witnessed a first-class production.

Prima Facie runs at the Heath Ledger Theatre from July 1 to July 21. Tickets range from $30.00 to $139.00.

The show lasts one hour and forty minutes without an interval. Content warnings include strong themes of sexual assault, coarse language, and the use of haze and smoke effects.

Photographer Credit: Daniel J Grant

This review also appears on It’s On The House. Check out more reviews at Whats The Show to see what else is on in your town.

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