Review By Lee Sarich
A lone chair sits under focused light on a small stage. An expensive chair. A statement. Comfort, power, refined style. An accusation demanding change.
Prima Facie is a searing journey through the experience of sexual assault and the dissection of resulting legal processes, told through the insider eye of criminal defence barrister, Tessa. Sheridan Harbridge as Tessa, emerges from the anticipation created by tones suggestive of didgeridoos that hush the audience and make me think of lore.
Tessa invites us to share the excitement of a successful barrister as she destroys her opposition, and once we’re captured her grip is unrelenting. Seamlessly shifting between the Judge, defendant and accused, Tessa’s inner dialogue illuminates her world. Between the sassy confidence of a competent professional mastering the complexity of criminal defence and the yearning vulnerability of a daughter seeking her mothers approval, Sheridan Harbridge is captivating as she gives full breadth to Tessa’s life and all the surrounding characters.
The picture of her life once complete, is turned upside down and inside out. Upside down as the power of the profession she has wielded with precision turns against her, inside out as she reveals moment by moment the harrowing journey. Torturously privileged we experience the horror and confusion with her, bearing sacred witness to the courage of writer and performer as Tessa resists a system built against her. It’s a performance exhilarating and exhausting to watch, uplifting as even in defeat Tessa commands respect with a piercing challenge.
Written by Susie Miller, the dialogue is sharp with a flowing poetic narrative. Punctuated by minutiae that captures a profession and an entrenched suburban drawl. Exquisitely detailed moments join to create an unflinching picture of traumatising the traumatised. The legal system stands guilty. Courageous and unapologetic, this work exposes the experience of ‘justice’ as unwieldy and unworkable.
Directed by Lee Lewis, the cut and thrust is well balanced with reprieve in flashes of humour and compassion. Lighting by Trent Suidgeest and sound by Paul Charlier in turns increase tension, accentuate struggle and add warmth and depth to plateaus of solidarity. Set and costume design by Renee Mulder provide a launching pad for Tessa’s austere professional ferocity as a barrister, and understated power as a woman fighting wrong.
On the Face of it, this play is about the journey and experience of one woman. Of course it speaks for many, another voice in a growing chorus calling for change. Demanding our laws reflect the changing views of an ever evolving society. Courage inspires courage, in this story and performance it’s channeled with clarity and direction, it needs only be met with will.