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‘RBG: Of Many, One’ // Sydney Theatre Company

‘RBG: Of Many, One’ was inspiring.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg is an icon. She was the second ever woman, and first Jewish woman, to serve as a justice of the Supreme Court of the United States and was an advocate for women’s rights and gender equality. While she is not without criticism, her legacy of fighting for justice lives on.

‘RBG: Of Many, One’ begins during the summer of 1993 and Ruth Bader Ginsburg is waiting for a life-changing phone call. As the minutes tick by, Ginsburg recalls the incredible life that led to this moment.

Playwright Suzie Miller traces Ginsburg’s life from her childhood through to her death in 2020. Miller explained that she wanted to focus on the incredible legacy of Ginsburg and specific conversations/dialogues she has with three very different US presidents. It is these conversations that mark Ginsburg’s journey as we follow this powerhouse of legal knowledge, political thought and moral conviction against the backdrop of a rapidly changing world.

Miller’s script excelled in humanising Ginsburg through her various joys, triumphs, disappointments and heartaches. Early on we hear about how her mother took her to the opera on her 16th birthday instigating a love affair with the music. From then, supported by composer and sound designer Paul Charlier, we continue to hear arias throughout the play and are reminded of the opera lover behind the force of the notorious RBG.

As a lawyer turned playwright, it is unsurprising that Miller references women judges as her inspirations during law school and regards them still as ground breakers. The key theme throughout the show is Ginsburg’s moral conviction and drive to do what is right. She follows her beliefs, even at times when she knows she shouldn’t and feels regret at her actions. Most notably when speaking out against Donald Trump in the lead up to the 2016 election.

The events that unfold over the course of the play are from a not so distant history, but despite knowing how these events will unfold, it is a testament to Miller’s writing that the audience still listens with tension as Ginsburg declares her fear of Roe v Wade being overturned, her steadfast belief that Hilary Clinton would win the election and her determination to outlive Trump’s presidency, and feel the emotional blow when things don’t go as hoped.

Ginsburg’s passion for justice and working for the greater good provided many goosebump inducing moments when brought to life by the powerhouse that is Heather Mitchell.

As Ginsburg herself, Heather Mitchell, under skilled direction by Priscila Jackman, was exceptional. Mitchell possessed a metamorphic ability to embody not only Ginsburg over the different phases of her life, but also the rest of the world she came into contact with including her husband and certain US presidents. Not only did she master Ginsburg’s power and passion, but also brought so much humour and charm to her journey. With voice and accent coaching by Jennifer White, Mitchell morphed her voice to replicate Ginsburg’s New York twangs and, through her physicality, there were times you were certain you were looking at real footage of Ginsburg. Mitchell as Ruth Bader Ginsburg was an absolute masterclass in character work.

Lighting by Alexander Berlage helped evoke the tone of each chapter of Ginsburg’s life such as warm hues for happy nostalgic memories to more cold, harsh lighting in times of stress. The lighting also helped the audience follow the play’s non-linear progression.

Design by David Fleischer was minimal but effective. The majority of the scenes took place with a simple upholstered chair in centre stage and long white drapes as the backdrop which worked very effectively in reflecting Berlage’s lighting design. The occasional prop piece would be handed on by a member of the stage crew which would make for amusing interactions with Ginsburg.

Regardless of how much you know of Ruther Bader Ginsburg, you cannot fail to be moved by her story. Director Priscilla Jackman explained that she hoped this production would offer personal insight into the continued relevance of Ginsburg’s wisdom and the need for vigilance in continuing her fight for justice, equality, understanding, compassion and human connection. I believe it truly did that, and more.

‘RBG: Of Many, One’ continues its Australian tour. Stay up to date on the Sydney Theatre Company website.

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