A Fight For Justice Through Vulnerability 


2 May 2023

We’re all about promoting the voice of youth and providing a platform for young people to share their experiences and develop their critical voice through our Ambassadors program. The views expressed are those of the writer and do not reflect the views of Canberra Youth Theatre or its staff.

Emily O’Mahoney, one of our 2023 Ambassadors, reviews Prima Facie by Suzie Miller at The Q.

Suzie Miller’s Prima Facie delivers a precise and intimate portrayal of one woman’s fight for justice. The show takes a torch to the justice system through the perspective of criminal defence barrister, Tessa (Sheridan Harbridge), who has found most of her success defending sex assault cases. Tessa has a strong faith in the justice system she represents, but after being sexually assaulted, she has to face the process from the other side and any semblance of protection she may expect, dissipates and cracks in the system become glaringly obvious. 

Sheridan Harbridge begins the show with undefeatable power and a glinting girlish joy, reeling us into Tessa’s world. “This is not life, this is law” she says; a statement delivered with calm authority will later ring a cruel echo in its audience’s ears. Miller’s play shows exactly how the justice system we rely on is cold and heartless, and highlights the issues that appear when laws aren’t written by those it seeks to protect. We watch firsthand as a woman who has defended this system, followed it with an almost ignorant trust, is chewed up and spat out, with justice slapped on her face. 

It is the simplicity of the play that makes it most impactful. Harbridge performs the majority of the play on a raised box, and an intricate, but understated sound and lightscape seamlessly transition us throughout the piece. Through the skillful stage design, we are transported to a variety of environments that build a vibrant world around Tessa, before sending it crumbling to pieces. Harbridge brings an untouchable strength to the play. Combining this with a raw and heartbreaking vulnerability, she makes the quietest scenes; those in a taxi, a kitchen, or a waiting room some of the most memorable of the show. 

Tessa’s story is not remarkable. It sits an inch away from each audience member’s life. Harbridge said herself that there have been countless near misses in her own life, a statement that the majority of women can agree with. It is that closeness, that stark reality of Tessa’s situation that sends chills down every spine and tears down every face as we watch Tessa crawl to get justice for an event that the lawyer inside knows is almost impossible to obtain. 

Provocative and energetic, Prima Facie was one of the most incredible theatre experiences I have had. Miller’s storytelling genius is brought to life through an incredible design team and Sheridan Harbridge’s astounding performance united everybody in the room in grief, anger, and most importantly, hope. It is a piece that I have not been able to stop thinking about after seeing, and one that I doubt will leave me for the rest of my life. It is theatre like this that brings together communities of all scales, touches the spirits of all its viewers, and fights for reform and true justice. 

Written by Suzie Miller

Director Lee Lewis

With Sheridan Harbridge

Emily O’Mahoney is a Canberra based actor and theatre-maker. Making her stage debut in 2020, she has performed in roles including Alina in Little Girls Alone in the Woods, Antigone in The Burial at Thebes, and Jordan Baker in The Great Gatsby. After getting a taste for theatre-making with her physical theatre piece ‘Exit Sign’ for the ACTUP Youth Fringe, Emily has joined Canberra Youth Theatre’s Emerge Company. She has also recently co-founded Sunspot Productions, a film local production company focussed on developing and promoting the stories of young women.