Review: RBG: OF MANY, ONE at State Theatre Centre

Heather Mitchell shines as history making supreme court justice

By: Jun. 15, 2024
Review: RBG: OF MANY, ONE at State Theatre Centre
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RBG: OF MANY, ONE enjoyed a season of runaway success in 2022, coming back this year for a national tour. Perth now has the opportunity to see for itself that the hype is well and truly deserved for this one woman show.

How good can a one woman show with minimal staging, props, and costumes be? Brilliant, apparently, with RBG: OF MANY, ONE being a masterclass in stagecraft that any aspiring director or performer could learn a great deal from. The main/only character is played by the inimitable Heather Mitchell. Mitchell also carries many conversations with other characters, and she is clever and artful enough to give each voice exactly what you’d expect Bader Ginsburg to have given each person with the benefit of hindsight. Bill Clinton (who initially appointed Bader Ginsburg as a Supreme Court justice) is voiced with the comical exaggeration you’d expect, whilst Barack Obama has a mild tone bordering on timid, and Donald Trump’s voice is slightly mocking but also slightly ominous. Mitchell also effortlessly voices Bader Ginsberg’s husband Marty as well as her supreme court adversary (but very close friend) Antonin Scalia amongst others, and whilst information about each character is embedded in the narrative, the voice given to each by Heather Mitchell contributes to their overall picture.

There are many things that Ruth Bader Ginsburg valued in life, and honesty is one of them. This is an honest portrayal of her life, not shying away from weakness, failure, or tragedy. Indeed, the play doesn’t idolise Bader Ginsburg even when given the opportunity, for example glossing over the fact that she attended lectures for both herself and Marty whilst he fought cancer. The image of Bader Ginsburg we get is very real, leaving no doubt about her values and ideals, as well as a nice insight into her real personal life. In fact, whilst RBG: OF MANY, ONE is a triumph of theatre and a tacit of everything that is good about it, we can fall in love with theatre all over again through the emotional and raw reaction we witness when Bader Ginsberg was at the opera, opera being one of her greatest pleasures in life. Bader Ginsburg's different phases of life are expertly portrayed by Heather Mitchell, with slight changes in voice and stance ageing the character as needed.

Review: RBG: OF MANY, ONE at State Theatre Centre

As Ruth Bader Ginsburg aged, she leaned more into her public image. Whilst the simple fact she was a female on the supreme court bench (only the second in history) made her famous, she gained a reputation for her precise and measured majority rulings, as well as for her impassioned dissents. Indeed, her time as the notorious RBG is a major part of the show, and her iconic appearance on Late Night With Stephen Colbert makes an appearance as we are led through a workout routine. The fame did get to Bader Ginsburg, and the way she perhaps showed impropriety in openly criticising Donald Trump (thereby interfering with the separation between executive and judiciary she so valued) is shown as part of the arc, with her defence of that exact separation a major part of the play as she rebuffs Barack Obama’s thinly veiled suggestions she step down.

Director Priscilla Jackman expertly gets value from every single part of the 100 minute show, ensuring that Suzie Miller’s stunning play and Heather Mitchell’s outstanding performance reach their very fullest potential. Ruth Bader Ginsburg said “Whatever you do, leave tracks,” and RBG: OF MANY, ONE certainly does that. It is fair to say that the play leaves a mark with almost everyone that sees it, and whilst sell-out seasons have become the norm (indeed the current Perth run is sold out), if you get the opportunity to see this play, you simply must.

RBG: OF MANY, ONE is sold out for the remainder of its season at the State Theatre Centre, Perth. More information from BLACK SWAN Theatre Company.

Pictures thanks to Prudence Upton.


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