A timely restaging of a 1612 rape trial that gives a powerful voice to the victim, Breach Theatre’s intelligent It’s True, It’s True, It’s True is not to be missed.
It’s True, It’s True, It’s True restages the 1612 seven-month trial of Agostino Tassi for the rape of baroque painter Artemisia Gentileschi – as well as the theft of Gentileschi’s Judith and Holofernes (which Tassi had allegedly stolen due to his resemblance to the victim of the painting). Breach Theatre’s latest show is based on surviving court transcripts, with the testimonies blended with myth and contemporary commentary.
Robson’s design is simple but effective: multi-purpose cloths and buckets remind us of a studio, while three metal pieces resembling easels provide the platforms for the courtroom. It’s a versatile space for the three actresses, who take turns testifying as their primary characters – and acting as the judge.
Ellice Stevens is an extraordinary Artemisia, portraying the victim of the crime with tenderness, truth and respect. You can’t help but feel she could forget her lines, start adlibbing and you’d still believe whatever she says; a wonderful storyteller who can take control of the room with little or no effort. Sophie Steer is a creepy yet playful villain, remaining ‘threatening’ even whilst simply standing on the side of the stage. Kathryn Bond perfectly balances the room with her humane and surprisingly relatable Tuzia, the female tenant in Artemisia’s house who’s called to testify as a witness.
Some of It’s True, It’s True, It’s True‘s transitions are a bit clunky and distracting, especially near the start, and it takes a while to get into the story and understand the dynamics as the three actresses switch around to voice the different parts of the testimony. But as the show progresses, Artemisia’s voice and art become clearer and dominant until she is literally left alone on stage. She screams “It is true! It is true!” over and over again, like a battle cry, like it’s the only thing she can possibly do. But not for one second there is a sense of defeat in her voice.
Most of Artemisia’s statements seem too ‘modern’ to be from the 17th century (a telling fact, perhaps, about how little we’ve moved on), and Breach are smart to blur and problematise the line between history and fantasy. Retrospectively, that’s the part of It’s True, It’s True, It’s True that stuck with me the most, especially since the rise of the #metoo movement and the stories of sexual assault that continue to surface. The trial transcriptions, as well as some of the paintings, are very cleverly brought to life with the aid of the strong cast. In an ending that transcends reality, Judith herself dresses Artemisia in the beautiful garments from the painting and gives her the agency (and the sword) to enact the revenge she has been negated. It’s a final moment of poetic justice that, alas, is probably the least historically accurate of the whole play.
It’s True, It’s True, It’s True puts Artemisia’s voice centre stage as she testifies in great detail, painfully and proudly. She narrates the circumstances of her assault without flinching and describes her paintings in such meticulous details as if she had lived them herself. Breach Theatre has successfully given a voice to a talented and intelligent artist, a feminist ante litteram who used her art as evidence and a means to exorcize trauma. This production is not to be missed.