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Suzie Miller's play "Prima Facie" is the subject of this review, which explores its powerful narrative without the context of a live stage performance.

Suzie Miller’s play “Prima Facie” is the subject of this review, which explores its powerful narrative without the context of a live stage performance.


The 2022 production of Prima Facie by Suzie Miller was an exceptional theatrical experience that received attention outside of the arts community. Starring Jodie Comer in her debut stage performance, this 90-minute, one-woman show was highly successful in both the West End and on Broadway, earning numerous accolades and prompting the legal industry to address the themes portrayed. Miller, a former lawyer, has now adapted the story into a novel, but the reception has been mixed.

Initially, Prima Facie tells a tale that divides into two parts. It is narrated rapidly and in the first person and present tense by Tessa Ensler, a determined barrister in her thirties who has come a long way from growing up in a government-subsidized housing project in Luton to attending Cambridge and eventually joining a distinguished chambers in London.

Tessa has built a reputation for herself in the field of criminal defense, specifically in cases involving sexual assault. When her female acquaintances, who may hold outdated views, question how she can represent a potential perpetrator, Tessa responds with confidence: “I simply follow the regulations and strive to do my best. If we all adhere to the rules, then justice will prevail.”

Her unwavering belief in the law’s ability to bring about equality, which she frequently expresses in the beginning, seems somewhat simplistic compared to her keen understanding of the divide between her own life and the lives of her privileged colleagues. However, it is firmly entrenched as her guiding principle and will be put to the ultimate test when the pivotal event of the story occurs.

A romantic encounter with a charming senior coworker, Julian, takes a turn for the worse when Tessa invites him to her place. The next morning, when she decides to report the incident to the police, she believes that her training has equipped her to handle anything the legal system can throw at her. However, 782 days later, she realizes that being on the witness stand is a completely different experience. “I respond verbally, but in my mind, I’m interrogating myself. Using my own defense skills to question my own story… Finding flaws in my recollection of events. Blaming myself. Trapped in a repeating cycle.”

It is not uncommon for fans of a book to express disappointment when it is adapted for the stage or screen, as it often results in a loss of the story’s complexity. Similarly, the opposite issue can arise when a play is expanded into a novel. In this case, the pacing and intensity that made Miller’s play so captivating is lacking in the new version. Instead, the first section of the novel includes unnecessary flashbacks to Tessa’s earlier years, derailing the build-up towards the assault and the intense courtroom scenes that follow.

Suzie MillerView image in fullscreen

The extremely low rate of convictions for sexual assault (1.3%) is highlighted by the book as a consequence of a legal system that fails to address the uncertainties and complexities surrounding victims’ experiences. In her powerful closing argument, Tessa asserts that the laws surrounding sexual assault are unjust. Prima Facie brings attention to these uncertainties in a way that forces the reader to confront uncomfortable ethical questions. Miller skillfully portrays how other women may dismiss or downplay a victim’s experience in order to avoid confronting their own.

The play was reviewed by The Guardian, which stated that Comer’s performance made up for the lackluster areas in Miller’s script. This highlights the issue with the novel adaptation: it can seem dull without the actor’s charm to enhance it. However, Prima Facie has already had a significant influence beyond the stage, as the original script has been used in training for new judges. If the novel expands its audience, it will only benefit the important stories it tells.

Source: theguardian.com