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  • Writer's pictureAlex First

Prima Facie (MTC) at Fairfax Studio, Arts Centre Melbourne - 90 minutes, without interval

Tessa Ensler (Sheridan Harbridge) is a successful barrister.

She knows the tricks of the trade and defends her clients – many alleged sexual offenders – vehemently.

She relishes the game … circling witnesses until she is ready to pounce, having lulled them into a false sense of security.

She is good … very good. Those who know her, know how she operates and what is coming.

The witnesses are mere lambs to the slaughter.

Photos by Brett Boardman

Tessa chose law after she did particularly well in her final school exams.

She received a reality check when sitting with fellow legal wannabes for the first time and was told in no uncertain terms that many wouldn’t see it through.

But that was never going to be the case with Tessa.

Now, with 11 years’ experience, she is winning case after case.

Even when human compassion might enter the equation for a victim, she justifies what she is doing and how she is doing it by saying to herself that she is adhering to legal process.

And then one fateful, drunk night everything changes.

Suddenly, she becomes the victim and life, for her, will never be the same again.

It takes 763 days for her case to be tried, but will she see justice?

Prima Facie*, written by former lawyer Suzie Miller, had its world premiere in 2019 at the 105-seat Griffin Theatre in Sydney’s Kings Cross.

It has since played to sold out seasons in the West End and will premiere on Broadway in April.

The reason it has been universally acclaimed is quickly clear.

Miller’s writing is descriptive and insightful, while Sheridan Harbridge is a force of nature in 90 minutes of compelling theatre.

It is just her in a neat suit and a chair and yet she holds us in the palms of her hands throughout.

As Tessa, she celebrates, she pouts, she parties, she is flirtatious.

She is driven, she is highly capable and she displays strength.

Then, she is shell-shocked, vulnerable, anxious and alone.

In a millisecond, she shifts the mood and does so with remarkable dexterity and aplomb.

Harbridge transforms into Tessa. We totally believe she is her.

The picture she paints is vivid and alarming.

Behind it is the need for change – that message couldn’t be clearer.

Since mid last year, I have been fortunate to see three bravura one-woman shows, each of which have left an indelible imprint.

The other two were MTC’s Boys and Girls, which showcased Nikki Shiels, and The Picture of Dorian Gray at Arts Centre Melbourne, featuring Eryn Jean Norvill.

Directed by Lee Lewis, Prima Facie, starring Sheridan Harbridge, is must see material.

It is playing at Fairfax Studio, Arts Centre Melbourne until 25th March, 2023.

* The title is drawn from the Latin meaning “on the first appearance”, otherwise put as a fact presumed to be true, unless it is disproved.

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