Prima Facie

‘Prima Facie’ offers perspective shift from criminal defence lawyer to #MeToo

TW: rape and sexual assault 

Queensland Theatre’s “rapid-fire and gripping one-woman show” starring Sheridan Harbridge is set to open Wednesday, 14 July at the Bille Brown Theatre in South Brisbane.

‘Prima Facie’ first ran in 2019 in Sydney to standing ovations and critical acclaim in the wake of the #MeToo movement. The story revolves around criminal lawyer, Tessa, and her shift in perspective from criminal lawyer successfully defending clients accused of sexual assault, to “the other side of the bar” when one of her own dates ends in rape.

The award-winning show is written by Suzie Miller, a former human rights lawyer who aims to examine how the legal system treats and tries survivors, ultimately demanding systemic change. Miller previously told The Guardian her own opinion of the law was impacted by having to take statements from people who had survived such assaults.

“I just didn’t believe in the system,” Miller said in 2019. “The one area that I think they’ve got wrong, really wrong, is consent, lack of that, and believing women.”

Ahead of the Queensland Theatre premiere, Miller shared one of her favourite excerpts from the play, quoting the main character.

“I have found my voice; it’s a different voice but it’s mine. I keep speaking; I can hear, ‘Objection!’ over and over, ‘I object’; ‘I object’; trying to drown out my voice. But I do not waver,” Miller said. “And I think that sums up where we get to with Tessa by the end of the show.  But the journey to get there is one of many highs and many lows and many exciting moments–and many moments where we also realise the system isn’t working the way it should be for the best of all Australians.”

Miller also reflected on an event following one of the 2019 shows, in which the audience was made up of all-female judges, barristers, solicitors and lawyers.

“After we had a two-hour Q&A where together we thought of ways we could change the legal system and actually make our voices heard,” she said. “So it’s a way that we can change the world with theatre; that’s what I’m hoping.”

Miller added the show is dedicated to Queensland Theatre Artistic Director, Lee Lewis, who directed the play when it was first produced at Sydney’s Griffin Theatre, as “one of the wonderful creative leaders of this country.”

And Lewis has emphasised the need for change in Australia that is central to Miller’s story.

“One in three Australian women has experienced physical violence perpetrated by a man since the age of 15. And COVID saw a horrible increase in domestic violence. Things are getting worse, not better,” Lewis said in a statement. “‘Prima Facie’ asks us to consider why we continue to believe in a system that re-traumatises victims? Is our life’s work to support the status quo, or seek to evolve our systems?”

Recognised by the Australian Writers’ Guild’s annual AWGIE Awards, ‘Prima Facie’ received the 2020 Major Award as well as the David Williamson Prize for Excellence in Writing for Australian Theatre.

‘Prima Facie’ runs from Wednesday, 14 July to Saturday, 7 August, 2021 at the Bille Brown Theatre in South Brisbane. For more information, visit Queensland Theatre’s website.

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