Theatre review: RBG: Of Many, One

A solo show that spans the eventful life of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, US legal trailblazer and global feminist icon.

It could not be more pertinent to view RBG: Of Many, One, a play about the life, career and nation-changing decisions of legendary Supreme Court Justice of the United States, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, in the footprint of the 2022 mid-term elections, where so many of the rights Ginsburg advocated throughout her storied history were on the ballot – potentially to be rolled back.

Heather Mitchell pulls off an iconic one-woman show that utilises her impressive physicality, and almost-contortionist ability to embody Ginsburg from youth until the very end, traversing all the presidential regimes she endured. Priscilla Jackman’s direction is crisp and minimalist, showcasing Mitchell’s superb performance.

Ginsburg cared fundamentally about the letter of the law, and Suzie Miller’s script tracks this with much more nuance than recent soapier biopics such as On the Basis of Sex, or even the glamorising documentary RBG. This production captures Ginsburg’s complicated character: from her love of opera to her unlikely friendship with conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, from motherhood and her negotiation of sexism to her refusal to retire and be replaced during the Obama years, due to her tenacious belief that she would live to see a President Hillary Clinton.

Mitchell is pitch perfect with Ginsburg’s Brooklyn accent, and deftly pivots to enact conversations that are sewn into her 90-minute monologue. There is much to celebrate in Ginsburg’s life, evidenced by her endless commodification on feminist bookmarks and knick-knacks and the playful sobriquet ‘The Notorious RBG’ (which, she apparently enjoyed).

Yet there is also much pathos, drawn out in this humanising depiction, exposing how much circumstance often shaped her path. Her husband Marty struggled with cancer at Harvard Law, and she attended his classes and took notes for him. While anxiously waiting for Bill Clinton’s confirmation of her call to the Court, she found out the President was busy watching a basketball game.

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Ginsburg tells herself: ‘Be strategic, be careful, be a lady, smile’, with just a trace of bitterness. Perhaps the most interesting arc is how, because of the wild swing to the Right, she eventually found herself the most liberal Justice of the Court, after beginning as a conciliatory moderate. And, the ultimate tragedy, that she died with only 55 days left of Obama’s term, with monumental consequences. 

RBG: Of Many, One, is a supreme achievement. 

RBG: Of Many, One
Directed by Priscilla Jackman
Written by Suzie Miller
Wharf 1 Theatre
Sydney Theatre Company

RBG: Of Many, One will be performed until 23 December 2022. 

Anna Westbrook is an interdisciplinary queer feminist storyteller, critic, creative producer, poet, and freelance educator, currently working on her second novel and a collection of essays. She has a PhD in writing from the University of New South Wales and is the author of Dark Fires Shall Burn.