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Theatre Review: Prima Facie (Circa Theatre, Wellington, until July 22)
Go and see this play. Go and see this play. Go and see this play. Go and see this play. Go and see this play. Go and see this play. Go and see this play. Go and see this play. Go and see this play. Go
Direction: Lyndee-Jane Rutherford (written by Suzie Miller)
Circa Theatre; Circa One (June 24 – July 22)
The role of the theatre critic can be a tricky one. You have to give over so much information, without spoiling, without overexplaining, without ruining…and to be honest, there aren’t many theatre reviewers that are very good at walking the right line. Too often the whole plot is explained, too often we see shoutouts to people in the technical department just because the reviewer feels they should name some names. “Great job on the lighting”, “Smooth direction” etc…which is not to say those people don’t deserve a lift, but I sometimes wonder if any real thought has gone on into the mere mention.
My job, this time around, is a little bit easier. The play Prima Facie is known and getting more known by the day. Media coverage aplenty, and deservedly. Productions popping up all around the world, running in several cities within countries, and again – rightly.
I’m here to tell you this play needs to be seen. I will add that on the opening night of its Circa run (which absolutely featured exquisite direction from Lyndee-Jane Rutherford, wonderful lighting and projection (including some stunning rare projection techniques) from Marcus McShane and Rebekah de Roo and a superb score and sound design by Briar Prastiti) as soon as Mel Dodge completed the 100 minutes on stage, solo, there was an instant standing ovation. It was a standing ovation for Mel, of course. She was never less than incredible and we believed her to be the character. But it was also for Lyndee-Jane and the work of all of the crew. It was absolutely for the playwright Suzie Miller. And it was for many in the audience.
The one in three discussed several times in the play.
It was the most immediate and resolute standing ovation I’ve ever been part of; I was so proud to be part of it, and so clearly not alone in not being able to stand up fast enough.
That should tell you that you need to go and see this play. Which isn’t always what theatre reviewing is about of course. But it’s a happy byproduct. The show’s first full week of performances is sold out I believe, and I’m sure it will continue to sell fast. As it should. This is important work by super-talented people. It is sad. Heartbreaking in fact. And there is a trigger-warning in the play, a self-care warning. And there needs to be.
Prima Facie was also funny and wise and so sharply written, it was devastating and impactful and so brilliantly acted, it was heartfelt and ominous and so skilfully directed.
It was so well attended – not just in that it was sold out, but in the way the audience sat as a whole, glued, sad, thoughtful, impacted, wounded, re-examining, alone, together, moved; connected to something powerful. This is why we are lucky to have live theatre, and the amazing people that make it. And that’s all I want to say about this must-experience work.
But I also want to share the Director’s Note that is in the programme and so I’ll take that word-for-word and place it right here to end this “review”.
At this time the Arts and Humanities Departments in our universities are under threat and here, right now, we have a play that is literally changing the world. The NT Live version of Prima Facie is now mandatory viewing for high court judges in Northern Ireland before they sit on the bench, with plans to introduce it to more judges. After seeing the play, members of the Women Barristers of the Old Bailey set up a movement called Tessa – Examination of Sexual Assault. Here in New Zealand, lawyers get two Continuing Professional Development points if they see this production of Prima Facie including a Q & A with me and my creative team. It feels significant that artists, creatives, thinkers, visionaries and storytellers, who often struggle to make a living wage, will be educating our lawmakers and those who uphold the law. When I first read Prima Facie I was struck by the clarity and rhythm of the writing. The zeitgeist of this time has been captured and Suzie Miller has harnessed the conversations that need to be continued. Art can change the world.
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