Prima Facie began years ago in the back of playwright Suzie Miller’s mind when she was a law student and then a defense lawyer. “You're taught to think in a certain way. But when you actually take a step to the side, you think, ‘Actually, the system's not working that well.’” The Olivier-winning play opened April 23 in the John Golden Theatre, arriving on the Broadway stage from the West End for an engagement through June 18.
As Miller seeks to “call out the legal system” with the Prima Facie, she’s looking to highlight one of the issues which continues post the #MeToo movement. “It’s one thing to have #MeToo. But then if you bring people to a legal system that's not caught up with the rest of the community, you're letting them down for even speaking up." As Miller explains, for those who brave the legal system, they're often re-traumatized and left without a just result.
The play follows British defense lawyer Tessa, played by Jodie Comer (Killing Eve), who works her way from a working-class background to a rising star in the legal field. Often assigned to defend men accused of sexual assault, she dedicates her career to a system she believes in. But her whole world is thrown into question after she ends up in the witness stand. Watch Miller, Comer, and more of the production's creative team talk about how the play had affected them, and the conversations they hope it begins, in the video above. (Watch to the end for Miller's pronunciation of the legal term, which she even admits does not have a consistent pronunciation in the law world.)
Comer makes her Broadway debut, reprising her 2023 Olivier-winning performance in the solo show. “I realized how much of last year in London I spent quite fearful, just trying not to forget my lines. Whereas now it's in my body in a different way. I've started this process with a different confidence, which has been really gratifying having a new sense of trust within myself,” she says about transferring across the Atlantic.
Given the show’s heavy material and its form as a one-woman show, it’s quite the undertaking for any actor and especially one making her big stage debuts (Prima Facie was also Comer’s West End debut.) But the effects Comer sees the show having on its audiences have been rewarding for her. “I feel like it's really created a sense of community. With sexual assault, there is a lot of shame and guilt, and therefore a lot of hiding of what people have gone through.” Comer says, “There's something about having 800 people in a theatre, and they're giving each other permission to release things that they've never released before.” It’s a reaction that Miller remembers seeing happen for the first time at a West End preview when the audience “rose like a wave” at the end.
Go inside the post-show red carpet in the gallery below.
The show's composer, British musician and vocalist Rebecca Lucy Taylor says, “We're trying to show you the female experience.” While Taylor has been interested in composing for the stage previously, Prima Facie marks her first theatrical composing credit. It was serendipitous timing for Taylor, also known by her stage name Self Esteem, since the play’s content overlaps with much of the subject matter of her last album, Prioritise Pleasure.
Video designer Willie Williams also makes his Broadway debut. To prepare for some of the production’s initial ideas about including statistics, Williams conducted a lot of research into the facts and figures about sexual assault. “It's really been very sobering. And in the end, the one statistic we do get is 782 days, which is the average length of time between a complaint and a court case, which is really unbelievable,” he says.
“The most powerful thing is that the play doesn't lecture, it invites us all at the end to say something has to change,” says producer James Bierman. Bierman, who reveals he has cried at every Broadway preview, points to the theatre’s power to start a conversation by offering a collective experience. “There’s nothing more brilliant than standing outside the theatre every night and hear those conversations start as they disappear off down 45th Street.”
It's that extension of an invitation that is also vital to director Justin Martin’s intentions for the production. “It’s an invitation to a female audience saying we understand, and as much to a male audience saying, ‘Come on, let's get together. Let's find a way to make this change because the world should not be like this.’” It’s also a reflection of Martin’s own journey with Prima Facie. Miller sent him the script, which he read while on vacation by a pool in Spain. He recalls, “I burst into tears, and a lovely lady came up to me and said, ‘Are you okay?’ And I went, ‘I can't tell you what I've just been through.’” Then he said to himself, “I have to be a part of this conversation.”
Check out photos of the Broadway production of Prima Facie.
Dani Arlington serves as understudy for the production, which also features scenic and costume design by two-time Tony nominee Miriam Buether, lighting design by Drama Desk nominee Natasha Chivers, and sound design by Drama Desk winners Ben and Max Ringham.
Prima Facie met success in London where Comer won the 2023 Olivier for Best Actress and the production earned the 2023 Olivier for Best New Play. The show earned further Olivier nominations for Best Sound Design, Best Lighting Design, and Best Director.
WATCH: Jodie Comer's 2023 Olivier Award for Prima Facie Got Her Dad a Free Lunch
Partnering with organizations to further change, the Broadway production will work with U.K.-based charity The Schools Consent Project, which seeks to educate young people on issues surrounding consent and sexual assault. It is also launching the Prima Facie Pro Bono Project, offering low-priced ticket lottery and rush tickets at every performance, while also providing free ticket access to specific partner and community organizations.
The show does include a trigger warning for including sensitive subject matters with references to sex, violence, and sexual assault.
Prima Facie is produced by Empire Street Productions, Elizabeth Armstrong, Barbara Broccoli, Caiola Productions, Kristin Caskey, Echo Lake Entertainment, Eilene Davidson Productions, Eleanor Lloyd Productions, Faliro House, FilmNation Entertainment, Dale Franzen, L.T.D. Productions Inc., Holly Anderson Levow, Stephanie P. McClelland, Olympus Theatricals, Rachel Sussman and The Shubert Organization.