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  • Writer's pictureAlex First

RBG: Of Many, One (Sydney Theatre Company), at Playhouse, Arts Centre Melbourne - 100 minutes without interval

RBG: Of Many, One is distinguished by a virtuoso performance from Heather Mitchell, in which she metamorphosises into Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

 

In fact, it is unquestionably one of the greatest solo theatrical offerings this country has had the good fortune to witness.

Photos by Prudence Upton and Daniel Boud


As Ginsburg, the second woman to be appointed to the US Supreme Court, Mitchell talks about her love of family, the law and opera.

 

She is also passionate about gender equality and abortion rights.

 

That starts from a position where she struggled to gain a foothold in the legal profession, even though she topped her year at Columbia Law School in New York.

 

She had three strikes against her. She was a woman, she was a mother and she was Jewish.

Nevertheless, when she did get her chance, she was nothing if not fiercely intelligent, thorough and vociferous.

 

She prosecuted case after case, many high profile, for win after win.

 

RBG: Of Many, One starts in 1993, as Ginsburg is preparing to meet the then US President, Bill Clinton.

 

He must decide whether Ginsburg will fill one of nine positions on the Supreme Court bench.

 

After their meeting, she nervously awaits a phone call that will determine her fate.

One of the many distinguishing features of Heather Mitchell’s exquisite offering is her ability to mimic the voices and accents of some of the key players in RBG’s life.

 

So, it is with Ginsburg’s beloved husband Marty and Presidents Clinton, Obama and Trump.

 

Resonating throughout her discourse are the words of her mother, which call upon her to hold her outrage.

 

That, and her strict adherence to her belief in separating the judiciary from the executive.

On the latter, much to her chagrin, she slipped up badly only once, when she spoke out against Donald Trump during the 2016 Presidential campaign.

 

She had earlier survived a tête-à-tête with Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, during which he encouraged her to step aside for a younger female representative.


Taking to exercise late, Ginsburg also became a cult figure, a pop icon known as the Notorious RBG, a play on the late rapper Notorious B.I.G.

 

She graced the cover of Time magazine, had people take selfies with her, was made into a meme and had cups, t-shirts and bags sporting her visage.

Ginsburg was known by her loved ones as Kiki, a nickname given to her by her older sister Marilyn, who tragically died from meningitis at the age of six.

 

The moniker was afforded because it is said that as a young’un she used to kick her legs all day.

 

Grief and overcoming adversity are themes that resonate throughout RBG: Of Many, One.

 

Still, Mitchell manages to channel the remarkable life of Ruth Bader Ginsburg with heart and soul, with warmth, humour and humanity, dynamism and dexterity.

 

She is flawless, readily portraying RBG as feisty and formidable – just her with only a handful of props holding us, the audience, riveted for 100 minutes without interval.

Beautifully written by Australian-British playwright, screenwriter, novelist, librettist and lawyer Suzie Miller (Prima Facie), the play moves back and forth in time.

 

Stirring operatic interludes add gravitas (the composer and sound designer is Paul Charlier). So, too, the well realised colour palette in the lighting design by Alexander Berlage.

 

The costuming – from leisurely to exercise gear and judiciary robes – by set and costume designer David Fleischer is noteworthy.

 

RBG: Of Many, One is the complete package – triumphant, dramatic, at times comedic and totally enthralling, directed with aplomb by Priscilla Jackman.

 

Do Not Miss It!

 

It is on at Playhouse, Arts Centre Melbourne until 12th May, 2024.

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