Writer Suzie Miller is enjoying her success. Boy, is she enjoying it. There’s a wonderful photo of her winning a prestigious Olivier Award in April for her one-woman legal drama Prima Facie, which played at Queensland Theatre in 2021. I walked out of the Bille Brown Theatre thinking it was a drama that could really go places. Usually, I’m looking at my watch midway through anything at the theatre, but I never looked once during Prima Facie, which in Australia starred Sheridan Harbridge in the lead role of Tessa.

I’m not at all surprised that Miller’s play has gone gangbusters on the West End in London and on Broadway. I’m a little surprised that it is now a novel. Prima Facie the book (Picador Australia: $34.99) is just out and it’s as gripping as the play. But it’s a kind of retro fitting, really, because the book should come first and then the play and then the film. And there is a film coming.

Miller has flouted convention in this regard. Because she can. She will be telling us all about this in person soon because she’s coming to Brisbane on October 9 as part of the recently launched Calile Culture program, a series of curated conversations, events and partnerships and collaborations at The Calile Hotel in Fortitude Valley, the hotel recently named 12th best hotel in the world.

That was quite a coup and it’s also quite a coup for Calile Culture to have the hottest playwright on the planet right now. (Miller will also appear at an Avid Reader Bookshop event in Brisbane.)

You don’t have to bend her arm to get Suzie Miller to Brisbane. She loves Queensland. She once lived at Beechmont and the family has an apartment at Burleigh Heads, where she sometimes retreats to write.

And she has great friends from here, including London-based theatre producer Trish Wadley who was instrumental in getting Prima Facie onto the stage in the West End. Wadley didn’t produce the play but she did introduce Miller to the director who took it on, Justin Martin.

Just before I get on the phone to Miller to chat about her career and her forthcoming visit I re-read an article about her and I’m looking again at that photo of her receiving her Olivier award. Her elation is quite refreshing.

“I am such an Australian on stage,” she says, laughing. “I tried to be quiet but I couldn’t be. That was the best night. Possibly the best night of my life.”

As for the photo … well, she feels a bit embarrassed about it.

“But it’s the one photo everybody published,” she says.

She won the Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Play 2023 for Prima Facie, which had a sold-out season in London and on Broadway this year.

Another of her plays, RBG: Of Many, One, is also going well and it comes to Brisbane next year. (Being a former lawyer, her plays tend to be about the law.) It stars Heather Mitchell as the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the second woman to be appointed to the US Supreme Court and the woman who changed the face of the American legal system.

Miller, who also has doctorates in drama and mathematics, was a lawyer practicing in the field of human rights law before she began writing fulltime. She is married to a High Court judge, Robert Beech-Jones, and they have two children, Sasha, 21, and Gabriel, 24, who live in Sydney.

Miller divides her time between Sydney, London and, more recently, New York, with occasional forays to Burleigh Heads and Brisbane, when she can.

“I’m a Queenslander by association,” Miller says. “I’m there a lot. I did a PhD at QUT and we lived at Beechmont for a year-and-a-half.  And I have my Brisbane people. I have a real attachment.”

It was Queensland Theatre’s artistic director Lee Lewis who directed the original production of Prima Facie, first at Griffin Theatre in Sydney and later in Brisbane at Queensland Theatre.

The 90-minute play is a drama about a young woman lawyer who has worked her way to the top and whose views of the legal system change after she is sexually assaulted. Originally set in Sydney it has changed setting overseas and the novel is set in London but the central drama remains.

The film, which will begin shooting when the Hollywood strikes are over, will introduce another element to the story. Race.

“I haven’t described Tessa much so far,” she says. “And that’s because I wanted her to be an everywoman. In the film she will be played by Cynthia Erivo.”

The black British actor and singer is next to play the role of Tessa after Jodie Comer, who starred on the West End and on Broadway.

Miller says she is excited about the film. Meanwhile, the play has been translated into 25 languages and is currently on stage in Turkey and several other non-English speaking countries.

A new play, Jailbaby, recently premiered in Sydney and she is working on another, Inter Alia, for London’s National Theatre.

She is the writer du jour and everyone wants a piece of her. And we get to see her on the cusp of super stardom. Miller is revelling in her career as she flits between Sydney, London and New York.

“I’m going back to London later in October,” she says. “I’m travelling a lot. I was in New York for three months this year and it was great but I got homesick. I just wanted to come home and smell a gum tree.”

Suzie Miller, Prima Facie, The Calile Hotel, 48 James St, Fortitude Valley, Monday October 9, 6pm


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