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Review: RBG: of Many, One at Wharf 1 Theatre, Sydney Theatre Company

Review by Michelle Fisher

I am fortunate in that I get to see a lot of theatre from small independent productions to large scale Broadway musicals. Some of it needs work, some is good, some very good and every once in a while, there is a piece that is on another level entirely. RBG: of Many, One is one of those rare works.

Written by Suzie Miller, directed by Priscilla Jackman and performed by the incomparable Heather Mitchell this is a play that demands every superlative you can think of when it comes to discussions about theatre.

To tell a story about the life of an extraordinary woman requires a script and an actor who themselves are extraordinary and this production has both of those in spades. Heather Mitchell is Ruth Bader Ginsberg ( RBG) – watching her you don’t feel like you are watching an actor playing a role but rather that you have somehow been allowed back in time to watch RBG herself.

Mitchell’s portrayal of Ginsberg is flawless. She convincingly plays this iconic woman from the age of 13 to 87 with a finesse that is rarely seen and commands this one-woman performance with a stage presence that is mesmerising. In between she takes on the roles of others who come into her life – her beloved Marty and presidents Clinton, Obama and a fabulous characterisation of Trump just to name a few and manages to make them believable and interactive parts of her story. As RBG it is not only her dialogue but the way she manages to portray all RBG’s physical characteristics that make this piece a triumph for Mitchell.

Miller’s story takes us through the highs and lows of an incredible life well lived – the battles with cancer, the loss of her mother and eventually her beloved Marty and the exciting moments of professional triumph. She has woven the story to include landmark cases in Ginsberg’s career and many of her wins but balances this portrayal fairly and cleverly by still allowing us to see the fallible side of this great woman - for example, as she defied her own rules and comments on Trump’s presidential candidacy and received backlash for doing so. There are also some poignant moments where the audience sees what Ginsberg never lived to see – the ominous prediction in a comment by her that while Roe vs Wade was a win, she was fearful that it could be overturned in the future…..

The staging is simple yet effective and allows the central focus to always remain on Mitchell – she is front and centre and real for 90 minutes of pure theatrical bliss. There are few bells and whistles, they are simply not needed – you see props being brought on stage, in fact Mitchell thanks the crew for handing her various pieces and interacts with them when they drop something, and thanks to her complete dedication to the characterisation, it is all seamlessly part of the show.

There are thankfully few blackouts between scenes and whilst I am not usually a fan of this convention at all, most of these seem appropriate and the final blackout is indeed captivating and a truly fitting ending.

It is clear that much research has been done by both the creatives and the actor herself to bring RBG’s distinct style to the stage with accuracy, reality and respect. The soundscape is fitting too with RBG’s beloved opera comprising most of the background music.

Suzie Miller has written a fabulous piece; Priscilla Jackman’s direction made this work a joy to watch, and Mitchell is simply a consummate performer. The standing ovation by the entire audience at the end is testament to a fabulous job done by an incredible actor and a recognition for hard work and commitment to her craft that is well earned.

My piece of advice is if you can get a ticket, please run …. buy a single seat if there is one – beg anyone you know who has one to let you know if their circumstance changes and they can’t make it or cross your fingers and hope STC do a repeat run or extend the season. I doubt you will see a better piece of theatre this year …. or maybe even this decade.

Image Credit: Prudence Upton


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