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Review: ‘Prima Facie’ is not to be missed

Prima Facie is a one woman play by Australian writer Suzie Miller that explores the adversarial nature of the Westminster system of justice and its relationship with women’s rights. 

In this New Zealand production at the Herald Theatre, Acushla-Tara Kupe plays Tessa a confident, intelligent defence barrister who loves the law and is very good at convincing juries that her clients are not guilty. She defends a number of different people covering a variety of crimes, including sexual assault. The story sees her navigate her professional and personal life and illustrates her journey from a poor upbringing to becoming one of Australia’s most successful barristers. She shares her view of the  law and has an almost academic view of how justice is blind and it is simply her job to poke holes in the prosecution case. It isn’t personal, it’s simply her job.

But, part way through this narrative, Tessa is herself, the victim of assault, and the effects are devastating on her. Pursuing her attacker through the courts makes her question her previous assumptions around the truth of blind justice. 

This is an astonishingly clever and watchable play with a tight script and a message which eviscerates the assumptions underpinning the legal system in Australia. It rails against the re-victimisation of women who have been assaulted by making them relive their pain and suffer through cold cross-examination. 

But this is no bitter polemic. It is a masterful production that is both dramatic and witty. Kupe as Tessa gives a dynamic and faultless performance. She speaks clearly and powerfully and delivers a range of styes and emotions appropriate to every scene. She creates such vivid depictions of every moment that it is possible to ‘see’ the people around her, in court, in the bedroom, and even while dancing suggestively in a bar. 

Kupe kept everything in perfect balance to give a mesmerising performance that was simply riveting to watch. Some scenes that were intense and at times uncomfortable to witness held my attention because of her masterful delivery. I believed every word, every scene. Even when she was delivering dialogue from another character, she changed voice and mannerisms perfectly for that character.

It was one of the most incredible performances I have seen in New Zealand theatre. 

Prima Facie is a very good piece of theatre, and Kupe’s performance means that this is one not to be missed. 


Wed 21 June – Sun 2 July 2023 
(NZ Sign Language Interpreted Performance, Wed 28 June)
(Schools only shows –  Tue 27 Jun and Tue 4 July )
Herald Theatre, Aotea Centre 



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