Prima Facie Review – Jodie Comer on Terrific Form in Roaring Drama | Theater

JOdie Comer’s West End stage debut was a baptism of fire in every way. A solo play about a lawyer who specializes in defending men accused of sexual assault, until she herself is assaulted, it demands a frenetic and uninterrupted physical and emotional commitment from her.

Comer delivers. She roars through the Suzie Miller script. The room roars too, sometimes too loudly in its polemic, but Comer works overtime to elevate those moments.

Led by Justin Martin, Comer’s Tessa Ensler is a ruthlessly competitive young lawyer with a devious mind. A bright, state-trained spark who survives the Cambridge Law School gladiatorial contests, she’s a very different woman before she finds herself on the other side of the witness box as a rape victim.

To the point… Jodie Comer in Prima Facie. Photography: Helen Murray

There’s a touch of Killing Eve’s Villanelle in Comer’s darkly comedic – almost campy – performance in the opening scene, which finds her gunning down a witness in court and portraying him in the style of a confrontation in a lounge bar. Her character treats the law like a blood sport and justifies tearing down the testimonies of women who claim to have been assaulted by citing the legitimacy of “legal truth” (anything that can be proven beyond doubt) above the actual truth. .

Comer has a lot to carry, playing all the characters, and is even tasked with moving the tables in a production whose staging is filled with oddities, despite having a solid central setting (design by Miriam Buether): the bedrooms an all-leather lawyer’s chair and oak tables, with floor-to-ceiling backrests. It becomes stripped of darkness as it progresses, with overturned chairs and pouring rain. A musical heartbeat effectively accompanies tense moments (sound design by Ben and Max Ringham) but other compositions (by Rebecca Lucy Taylor AKA Self Esteem) evoke the ambient electronic sounds of an Ibizan beach bar, while the lighting design (by Natasha Chivers) is full of manic flashes.

Comer is in almost constant motion, and we wait for his energy to wane but at no point does it sag. Although entirely different in subject matter, his performance matches that of Rafe Spall in the monologue Death of England.

She struts around, too, like a female version of David Mamet’s adrenalized men, leaping onto a table to play a court scene, slipping her wig and suit into a tight dress, throwing a packet of half-eaten chips at the audience and swiveling in a chair as she talks about having sex in the office.

She handles the dramatic shift to aggression masterfully, keeping us thrilled and horrified, though Tessa’s decision to put herself on the witness stand isn’t entirely story-wise convincing for a woman who knows that “sexual assault law spins around the wrong axis” and that women are so often doomed to lose. The early professional and cynical strategist seems too far removed from the believer in true justice she will later become.

Comer’s performance makes up for the clunky parts of Miller’s script, which falls into a loud lecture tone at the end. But Prima Facie’s latest messages are urgent to highlight those our laws do not protect. If delivered with hammer blows, there’s power in hearing them spoken on a West End stage, and Comer manages to infuse jaw-dropping emotional drama into every last word.