By Neil Durham
WORTH A LOOK?: *****
WHEN?: Saturday 16 April, opens 27 April and runs to 18 June 2022
RUNTIME: 100 minutes (no interval)
Defence barrister Tessa Ensler revels in the certainty of the law – defendants are either convicted or acquitted, everything is either black or white, right or wrong.
- Read on for reasons including why Comer’s West End debut makes for such a thrilling eve
We were 1st in the same room as Comer 4 years ago when she arrived late for a Q&A promoting season 1 of Killing Eve at BAFTA’s central London headquarters.
We were fangirling for showrunner Phoebe Waller Bridge, in awe of the amazing Fiona Show but absolutely bowled over by Comer’s dark performance but also charisma and authentic Scouse accent which was totally unexpected given work we’d just seen in Eve and in the past in BBC1’s Doctor Foster by Mike Bartlett.
Fast forward 4 years to her West End debut, we’re in row 3 and that natural accent is much in evidence here as Ensler is inspired by her working class roots to study law at Cambridge and to look at those sitting to her left and right because 1 of the 3 of them won’t progress.
The 1st half of this monologue is about Ensler’s success as a defence barrister, her joy at teasing out holes in evidence and skill in lulling witnesses into a false sense of security before going in for the kill.
It’s only when a relationship with a colleague heightens, they become intimate and she accuses him of rape that the 2nd half unravels to the point where everything she previously loved about the law makes her doubt everything about herself.
It may come as little surprise that author Suzie Miller used to practise criminal law and this play opened to much acclaim in her native Australia in 2019.
We haven’t seen the original and would imagine the adaptation is minor here but the deployment of Comer’s Liverpudlian accent is a masterstroke because it immediately sets her apart from those privileged enough to expect an education that will lead to a lucrative legal job.
Comer’s performance is absolutely on fire – by turns funny, hugely physical as she leaps on top of the office furniture to press home her point and heartbreaking as she contemplates a legal system that has been devised by men to women’s detriment.
We can hear sobbing all around us from the receptive audience, always a sign that the subject matter is striking a chord, and when Ensler once again urges us to both look left and right but instead says that 1 in 3 women are victims of sexual assault, the subject matter looms sharply into focus in this post #MeToo world.
The recent difficulties Taron Egerton had in converting a successful film career to 1 on stage during COCK when he fainted onstage during his West End debut and subsequently pulled out of the production early make Comer’s success here all the more thrilling.
We’ve said it before but monologues are the hardest form of theatre to get right and Comer has us in the palm of her hand throughout this thrilling eve.
As we write, all 74 shows at this 799-seater venue sold out before the run started and we hope for everyone’s sake that it extends because Comer’s performance is deserving of a much wider audience.
We think it’s safe to pencil her in for a place on 2023’s Olivier Award shortlist for Best Theatre Actress already on the strength of this absolutely triumphant 2nd preview alone.
Theatre is at its most powerful when it is provocative and challenging and there are elements here when Ensler is addressing the audience and her rallying cries for change could exist completely outside this arena and be just as valid.
Playwright Miller said in an interview around the Australian debut of this play: “When I first left the law to become a playwright, I had a first go at a play like this. But because it was such a woman’s story, it really was sidelined by so many different artistic directors, even though they loved the writing. And I think they thought no one was going to be interested in the story of women’s sexual assault. Then the #MeToo movement garnered this real insight into the fact that there’s a whole other way of seeing the world.
“All of a sudden this wave arrived that allowed us to say here we are, we’re not going to sit quietly anymore.”
The London stage is all the richer for being able to put it on here and its central performance by Comer is so assured that we suspect it won’t be long before it inevitably makes its Broadway transfer.