Jodie Comer makes an astonishing stage debut at the Harold Pinter Theatre in Prima Facie, a play that doesn’t quite match up to her
“The law on sexual assault spins on the wrong axis”
The entire run of Prima Facie has been sold out for a quite a while now, a testament to the pull of star Jodie Comer who has swung effortlessly from supporting in Doctor Foster to co-leading Killing Eve and then onto Hollywood. So it’s actually kinda cool that we’re getting to see her tread the boards as she makes her stage debut here at the Harold Pinter Theatre.
Prima Facie is a bold choice too, a one-woman show by Suzie Miller about the experience of sexual assault victims in the legal system. Comer plays Tessa, a confident young barrister revelling in being someone who defends men against sexual harassment claims. But when the tables are turned and she is assaulted by a colleague, she gets a bitter taste of what it’s like on the other side.
It’s a corker of a role and Comer takes to it wonderfully, dispelling any doubts anyone might have had as she runs the full gamut from cocky swagger to catastrophic shutdown to campaigning survivor. The set-up is wonderful, flashing back to childhood and studies and watching her calculate strategies to manipulate witnesses has an appalling fascination to it.
Miller’s writing proves a little too schematic though in swinging the pendulum so absolutely the other way. As Tessa finds herself on the other side of the table, enduring the indignities of those simply trying to seek justice, there’s no contemplation of her own role in this, her own complicity, of which she was bragging just a few moments ago. Keeping it black and white makes things clear cut for sure, but by ignoring the grey areas there’s a sense that the messiness of real life is being ignored here.
Justin Martin’s production is powerfully put together though, alive to the need to augment the monologue form. Miriam Buether’s clever set allows so much unexpectedness to unfold. And Rebecca Lucy Taylor’s music, Ben & Max Ringham’s sound design and Natasha Chivers lighting work all combine to highly atmospheric effect. By the time the directness of the final segment hits you, it’s hard not to indulge Prima Facie and Comer’s extremely fine work.