Each night before Heather Mitchell goes on stage she sits down and has a little chat with Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Yes, we know the esteemed former judge of the Supreme Court of the United states died in 2020 at the age of 87 but right now Mitchell is bringing her back to life each night in Australian playwright Suzie Miller’s hit one-woman play RBG: Of Many, One.

Mitchell, a veteran Australian actor who is getting rave reviews and having the time of her life playing Ruth Bader Ginsburg, or RBG as she was known, feels she has to try to connect with her subject before each show.

“I have a little chat with her,” Mitchell says. “I say, hey Ruth, I want to know that you are with me and I want you to know your voice is reaching people.”

Mitchell is coming to Brisbane for a short season of the play at QPAC from mid-May. It will be the hottest ticket in town.

Suzie Miller, whose play Prima Facie was a hit for Queensland Theatre during the pandemic, is possibly the hottest playwright on the planet right now.

Miller, a lawyer, is married to a High Court judge, Robert Beech-Jones. She is steeped in the law which makes her writing about that world more authentic.

Prima Facie, a play about a sexual assault case, is being performed in multiple countries and languages and one gets the feeling that RBG: Of Many, One, will also have a long life as more and more people get to know about it.

Critics have praised Mitchell, a NIDA-trained actor and sometimes screen star (she starred in the 2021 miniseries Love Me with Hugo Weaving) for her masterful performance as Ruth Bader Ginsburg and a retinue of characters in the judge’s life – everyone from relatives to US presidents including Clinton, Obama and Trump.

Mitchell does all the voices, which is not easy but is certainly fun. But it all centres on her meticulous characterisation of RBG. She says playing the role has been a gift.

“The greatest gift of it is being able to use your life’s experience in your work,” Mitchell says. “So often roles don’t give you much scope but there is so much to this role.”

Mitchell says she sat down with playwright Miller for coffee after Ruth Bader Ginsburg had died and one thing led to another.

“We were talking about RBG and Suzie knows so much about her,” Mitchell says. “I said I had been looking into her life and wanted to play her and Suzie said – good, I will write the play.”

Miller says it was always Heather Mitchell who would play RBG.

“Her talent is astonishing,” Miller says. “Heather’s love of the character and her full-bodied soulful investment is a gift.”

The play is directed by Pricilla Jackman with design by David Fleischer and the costumes make it more of a treat, according to Mitchell.

Miller says she always looked up to RBG.

“As a young female law student, I looked up to women judges,” she says. “They were ground breakers for me, and they remain so. The more women in powerful legal positions, the more opportunity for the law to be influenced by women’s lived experiences.

“Ruth Bader Ginsburg, herself, brought all her intelligence and thoughtfulness to her judicial profession. She brought her feminism, her roles as mother, daughter, life-partner, her Jewish background, her childhood of loss and socio-economic repression … she brought her incredibly flexible mind and her sharp senses.

“She brought herself as a woman completely and without apology. All of which has not only influenced the USA but women’s lives around the world – including women and lawyers in Australia.”

Mitchell studied RBG’s speeches and watched footage of her to hone the veracity of her performance. And she read widely.

“I also got to talk to a few people who worked for her,” Mitchell says. “The big thing was that they all had this deep admiration for her.”

On a personal level Mitchell found common ground. Mitchell, too, has Jewish and American ancestry, has battled cancer as RBG did and, surprisingly, both women’s husbands are Marty. These little synchronicities helped her connect and relate.

Mitchell says that when the play was first performed in 2022 at The Wharf, for the Sydney Theatre Company (the company behind this production), it seemed timely considering RBG had died and America was in turmoil.

“I didn’t realise that when we put it on again it would be even more pertinent,” she says.

When we chat, she has just finished a successful season in Canberra and is off to Melbourne where the play will run before it comes to QPAC.

The last time she was on stage in Brisbane was in the musical Strictly Ballroom. She can’t wait to tread the boards in Queensland again.

“My sister lives on the Sunshine Coast and I have many friends in Brisbane so I’m looking forward to it,” Mitchell says.

But how does Ruth Bader Ginsburg feel about it? No doubt Mitchell will ask her that before the show on opening night.

RBG: Of Many, One, Playhouse, QPAC, May 16 to 26


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