By Charlotte Holder
Content Warning: Mentions of Sexual Assault and Rape.
Following their successful run at Edinburgh Fringe in 2018, Breach Theatre have commenced their tour of gritty and emotive drama It’s True, It’s True, it’s True to theatres across the country. Directed by Billy Barrett, this retelling relates the story of the 1612 trial of Agostino Tassi for the rape of baroque painter Artemisia Gentileschi. The production blends contemporary and renaissance to create a hard-hitting mix of farce and ferocity, and highlights the issues that still plague survivors today.
The script is based upon surviving transcripts from the Italian trial, combined with verbatim and devised sections from the company. The resulting drama intertwines the historic seven-month court ordeal with myth and contemporary commentary, challenging us all as audience members to ask how much has changed?
The ensemble is comprised of three actors: Kathryn Bond, Sophie Steer and Ellice Stevens. The three women skilfully switched roles to bring the trial to life: from judge, the accused and the victim, to the range of mythical figures evoked. These switches provided the emotional resonances of the work in their purest form. As an audience, we witnessed each actor actively reinvent and recompose themselves to create a new character, thus leaving the distresses of their previous embodiment behind. This movement also highlighted the reality of the contemporary relevancies raised in this renaissance-based piece.
Dressed in black suits and surrounded by harsh steel, the blend of old and new was apparent from the beginning. Whether the emotionally manipulative tactics of the court room; the questioning of the defendant’s morality; or the constant references to Tassi’s worth and reputation as a painter; the piece encapsulated the problems survivors still face today. Disregarding the use of renaissance paintings and torture devices on stage, these scenes could be taking place here and now: a startling realisation as you watch Steven’s heart wrenching account of the attack unfold.
However, the show is not always as upsetting as it may sound. The company utilise comedy and farce excellently throughout the production: whether crude jokes, sharp shocking movements, or some ludicrous fake beards and capes. This is encapsulated during the farcical retelling of Susanna and the Elders. Taking inspiration from a Benny Hill style chase, the company successfully satirise not only the myth itself, but the popularised myth that rape can be invited. This juxtaposed lightness not only provides some relief from the harsh realities of the trails, but it also serves to increase the darkness of the action. The audience is shocked at their ability to become complicit in, and to laugh at, something so intimate and sensitive.
As the trial draws to a close, we focus in on Artemisia’s own work, namely the painting of Judith slaying Holofernes. This depiction of female strength is brought to life through a short recreation onstage, explaining how Artemisia channelled and challenged the injustices she faced within her work. This reclamation of female power and display of feminist fury only grows as the show culminates in a musical celebration Antemisia’s court victory, and her acceptance as the first woman into the Accademia delle Arti del Disegno.
However, through all this celebration we are left with the harsh reminder that even though time has passed, women are still facing these same struggles in court and on the street today. The production reminds us that it is the same celebratory feminist fury we see from the women onstage, that we need to utilise to advocate for change in our own times.
It’s True, It’s True, It’s True is running across the country until the 23rd of November. You can find more details of future performances at breachtheatre.com.