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RBG: Of Many, One

  • Theatre, Drama
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
  1. Heather Mitchell as RBG talks on the phone
    Photograph: STC/Prudence Upton
  2. Heather Mitchell as RBG
    Photograph: Daniel Boud
  3. STC's RBG: Of Many, One
    Photograph: STC/Prudence Upton
  4. Heather Mitchell as RBG speaking
    Photograph: STC/Prudence Upton

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

Heather Mitchell aces an astoundingly accurate character study of the notorious RBG in this one-woman play by Suzie Miller

Heather Mitchell’s Ruth Bader Ginsburg shares with us a piece of wisdom she received upon wedding her husband Marty: earplugs are the secret to a happy marriage. This nugget reflects the unexpected humour threaded throughout RBG: Of Many, One, which is seen equally in Mitchell’s biting impressions of her male contemporaries. Her version of President Bill Clinton makes a ridiculous yet convincing “nomnomnom” sound, while her Trump is just so… unnervingly Trumpian.

This play might be modest in its set dressing and number of cast members, but its sizeable reputation precedes it. Aside from the gargantuan legacy of the former Supreme Court justice whose life this play chronicles, the reputations of both its star and playwright also measure much taller than RBG’s five feet. Suzie Miller, the lawyer-cum-playwright behind Prima Facie, has again put her legal expertise to good use to chronicle RBG’s epic life in a way that demonstrates her deep understanding of the case law underpinning her legacy. 

Heather Mitchell is known for Binge’s Love Me and Sydney Theatre Company’s Still Point Turning: The Catherine McGregor Story. Here, under impeccable direction from Priscila Jackman, she excels with a character study so spot on that it feels completely effortless. We meet RBG as she waits anxiously for the call from President Clinton – will she be his next nominee for the Supreme Court of the United States? If she makes the grade, she’ll be the second-ever woman and the first Jewish woman to do so. Mitchell absolutely nails RBG’s accent, mannerisms and characteristic zeal, to the point where one could almost forget this is live theatre and not some kind of documentary. Her exemplary performance is a wonder to behold.

Also wonderful is the stagecraft of this play. The stage stays mostly empty, save for minimal pieces of furniture and occasional props handed off by the crew, who RBG thanks in amusing breaks of the fourth wall. Mitchell is often starkly framed with clever lighting from Alexander Berlage, which works to great effect to demonstrate time, place and emotion. 

Time flashes constantly back and forth, tracing RBG’s life from girlhood until her death, just shy of the 2020 US election. Despite covering so much ground, the narrative remains remarkably easy to follow (and for the most part, well-paced). We’re encouraged to champion RBG from her humble Brooklyn beginnings, born into a world that didn’t see her potential. We see her reach the top of her law school class, yet struggle to find a law firm that would consider hiring a woman, and a Jewish one at that. RBG goes on to make huge strides for American women by picking strategic cases that chip away at gender discrimination under the law.

Even considering her significant contribution to the women’s rights movement, RBG is not without critics on topics including her refusal to retire while Obama was in office and her silence on Palestine. RBG: Of Many, One delves into the former topic, yet doesn’t touch on the latter. Still, the writing tows the line of hagiography, ultimately ending up narrowly on the side of fairness. There’s also a lot to be said for the merits of judging someone by their time – RBG was one of just nine women out of a class of 500 at Harvard and still had to justify her spot.

RBG’s story comes to its inevitable end with an emotional and prolonged death scene, which feels a little like anguish for anguish’s sake. However, this is a small blip on an otherwise extremely engaging biographical work, likely to impress RBG stans and political newbies alike.

RBG: Of Many, One is playing at Arts Centre Melbourne Plathouse until May 12, 2024. You can book tickets on the Arts Centre Melbourne website here.

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Ashleigh Hastings
Written by
Ashleigh Hastings


From $70
Opening hours:
5pm. 7.30pm
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