Prima Facie: Critics praise Jodie Comer in her West End debut

Image source, Helen Murray
Image caption,
Prima Facie marks Comer's second theatre role, and first in the West End

Critics have hailed Jodie Comer's West End debut, describing her performance in Prima Facie as "phenomenal".

The Liverpool-born actress was widely praised, but many critics were less positive about the play itself.

"What a truly stunning debut it is," said Deadline. "Comer is phenomenal and commands the stage."

But Time Out added: "It's just a bummer the play's not better. For all Comer's charisma, the text is stodgy, and the drama ponderous and lacking nuance."

Prima Facie is a one-woman show focusing on Tessa (Comer), a barrister who specialises in defending people accused of sexual assault.

But when she is date-raped by a colleague, Tessa begins questioning the legal system as she becomes the plaintiff in a trial herself.

Image source, Helen Murray
Image caption,
The play was a pre-pandemic hit in Australia before transferring to London's Harold Pinter Theatre

"West End debuts don't come much more astonishing than this solo tour de force by Jodie Comer," said The Telegraph's Dominic Cavendish in his four-star review.

"In the face of Comer's triumphant leap into the live acting arena, I was mainly left wanting to see her on stage more; she's in her element, and can work wonders."

The play, by Australian-British writer Suzie Miller, was a hit when it opened down under before the pandemic.

For its transfer to London's Harold Pinter Theatre, the character of Tessa has been tweaked so she is from a working-class Liverpudlian background.

"I'd wondered if the famously good-with-accents actor would 'go Australian' but Miller has probably wisely tweaked the script," noted Time Out's Andrzej Lukowski in a three-star review.

"Here, Comer speaks in an affectedly sanded-down version of her own Scouse accent, like Tessa has deliberately smoothed out her vowels in the name of blending in with her posher peers."

He continued: "It's understandable that Comer wanted to kick off her stage career with a meaty 100-minute monologue about something she feels passionate about. If all famous actors simply went for the best play possible, we'd be stuck with even more Hamlet. With Prima Facie, Jodie Comer had something to prove about herself, and something she wanted to say about the world, and she's done both."

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Jodie Comer has appeared in four seasons of Killing Eve, alongside Sandra Oh

The play, directed by Justin Martin, is sold out for its two-month run in the West End but will be broadcast in cinemas around the UK in June.

In a four-star review, The Evening Standard's Nick Curtis said Comer "absolutely storms the West End".

"Her commitment made the production happen and kept it alive through delays. We all wanted to know if she's as good live on stage as she is on screen. And the answer is no: she's better."

"Suzie Miller's script is a great vehicle rather than a truly great play, however - shrewd and economical in its analysis of how the system treats assault survivors, but schematic in its plotting."

Sam Marlowe of iNews was slightly less positive , awarding the show three stars, but still praised Comer's "terrifically tough, supple performance".

"If the play, for all its conviction, sheds little new light on an egregious - and worsening - issue, she blazes," she said.

"Tension and a growing dread and anger are ramped up by music by Rebecca Lucy Taylor, aka Self Esteem, her snagging, staticky beats, vibrating harmonies and defiant lyrics infusing Miller's somewhat pedestrian writing with a pulsing urgency."

Comer is usually known for her film and TV credits, such as Killing Eve, The Last Duel, Help, Doctor Foster and Free Guy.

Prima Facie marks her West End debut and only her second theatre role, after performing in The Price of Everything in 2010.

Image source, EPA
Image caption,
Comer won an Emmy in 2019 for her performance in Killing Eve as Russian assassin Villanelle

The Daily Mail's Patrick Marmion wrote: "Comer blows us away in a ferocious yet forensic performance that's related in a blizzard of quickly shifting perspectives.

"In the end, however, Miller's play is kicking down an open door. It's a rightly furious polemic designed to ignite anger and outrage.

"But questions remain. Is it really more important to give plaintiffs the benefit of a doubt, or to carefully examine their evidence? And what does 'a male-defined system of truth' really mean? How we break the deadlock of claim and counter-claim isn't considered."

In a four-star review. The Times' Dominic Maxwell said: "Nothing can quite prepare you for the range, energy, resilience, emotional clarity and sheer presence [Comer] offers.

"If it's a great case study rather than a great play exactly, the cumulative effect is still quite something. Comer brings it to life in a way that suggests she has it in her to be a true stage great."

Image source, Helen Murray
Image caption,
The play's two-month run has sold out but it will be released in cinemas in June

Sarah Crompton of WhatsOnStage also awarded the show four stars, writing: "With Comer as its protagonist, blazing away, it is impossible to avert your gaze. She brings its arguments to forceful life and in the process creates an unforgettable moment of theatre.

"She has the ability to communicate many conflicting emotions simultaneously: she is funny when she is vomiting down a loo, but also utterly vulnerable and terrified; when she describes her mother she is both loving and ashamed. Each thought and emotion registers not only in her face, but in her body.

"She seems to imprint things onto herself before speaking. By the end of the play, she doesn't even look like the woman who began it."

Deadline's Baz Bamigboye noted the actress has received standing ovations during preview performances.

"What a truly stunning debut it is. Comer is phenomenal and commands the stage... giving a fearless, faultless performance as Tessa."

"She roars through Suzie Miller's script," agreed The Guardian's Arifa Akbar. "The play roars, too, sometimes too loudly in its polemic, but Comer works overtime to elevate these moments.

"Comer's performance compensates for the clompy-footed parts of Miller's script, which falls into a loudly lecturing tone at the end. But Prima Facie's final messages are urgent in highlighting who our laws fail to protect."