STC RBG OF MANY ONE Heather Mitchell as Ruth Bader Ginsburg photo by Prudence UptonYou may not know much about Ruth Bader Ginsburg, or any of the other justices who sat on the Supreme Court of the United States of America for that matter. However, Ruth Bader Ginsburg was the second woman to be appointed to the Supreme Court and a fierce advocate for gender equality and reproductive rights.

How Bader Ginsburg achieved legendary status by the time she died in 2020 is the subject of Suzie Miller’s brilliant one-woman play, written specifically to showcase the talents of another legend, one of Australia’s most celebrated and admired actors, Heather Mitchell.

Suzie Miller’s play RBG: Of Many, One traces Bader Ginsburg’s life from the age of 16 until her death at the age of 87. Heather Mitchell’s portrayal traverses significant events in the life of Bader Ginsburg in which she addresses the audience directly while out significant conversations with the likes of Presidents Bill Clinton, Barak Obama and even Donald Trump.

During her performance she literally ages, physically and vocally, leaving the audience with a  strong sense of Bader Ginsburg’s determination while battling against gender discrimination which attempts to deny her employment within her chosen career path, as well as the ravishes of cancer. It’s a remarkable story and one brilliantly performed by Mitchell.

Among a stream of Suzie Millers cleverly rafted scenes is one in which Bader Ginsburg expresses her-stream-of-conscious thoughts while waiting impatiently for a phone call from President Clinton to advise her whether he has recommended her for appointment to the Supreme Court.

At the same time she is fending off sympathetic advice from her beloved husband Marty. Mitchell had the audience rocking with laughter with the brilliance at her portrayal which was delivered without any hint of caricature.

Later she drew tears as Bader Ginsburg reading out a speech written by Marty in which he talks affectionately about their marriage, but which he never got the opportunity to deliver. Bader Ginsburg discovered this speech after Marty’s death just four days after their 56th Wedding Anniversary.

Mitchell’s performance in this production is a master-class in theatrical story-telling. But as memorable as her performance is, it also burnished by the contributions of those creatives who framed her particular genius with their own unique skills.

In particular, playwright, Suzie Miller, who conceived and wrote the words Mitchell delivers with such memorable skill, and director, Priscilla Jackman whose subtle, inventive direction illuminates both the play and Mitchell’s performance.

Then there’s David Fleischer’s elegant, understated setting, sensitively lit by Alexander Berlage to ensure that nothing distracts from Mitchell’s performance, and Paul Charlier’s haunting soundtrack that celebrates Bader Ginsburg’s deep love of music, especially opera.

If you didn’t know much about Ruth Bader Ginsburg before you saw this production, you’ll certainly come away informed about this remarkable woman. Better still, you’ll come away dazzled and moved by having witnessed a truly remarkable acting performance by a great Australian actor which is likely to remain among those treasured performances that keep you returning to the theatre.

Following this sell-out Canberra season, the Sydney Theatre Company’s production of RBG: Of Many, One will tour to Melbourne, Brisbane, Parramatta, Perth, and it’s rumoured, Broadway. Wherever you get the opportunity to see this remarkable production, be sure to take it. It really is something to cherish.

The Playhouse – Canberra Theatre Centre, Civic Square, Canberra
Performance: Friday 12 April 2024
Season continues to 21 April 2024
Bookings: www.canberratheatrecentre.com.au

Following the Canberra season, RBG: Of Many, One will tour to the Playhouse – Arts Centre Melbourne (25 April – 12 May), Playhouse – Queensland Performing Arts Centre (16 – 26 May), Riverside Theatres, Parramatta (30 May – 2 June) and Heath Ledger Theatre, Perth (13 – 23 June).

Image: Heather Mitchell as Ruth Bader Ginsburg – photo by Prudence Upton

Review: Bill Stephens OAM