BWW Review: IT'S TRUE, IT'S TRUE, IT'S TRUE, Culture to your couch
"I'm not the one that's on trial here." Artemisia Gentileschi has brought fellow artist Agostino Tassi to court, accusing him of raping her - but, naturally, it's her decisions and actions that are being called into question, seemingly seeking to justify his actions if not disprove them entirely. Sadly, this is a familiar story to women the world over.
This specific incident forms the basis of Breach Theatre's It's True, It's True, It's True; originally due to be playing at the Barbican's Pit Theatre at this time (prior to an Off Broadway run), it has been made available to watch online in the wake of its cancellation.
Much of the play follows the trial, with the occasional flashback or visual explanation of key works of art, and so the stage is set up in a court-like fashion. The set itself is actually an artist's studio, with paint pots across the shelves and other various pieces of furniture here and there; Luke W. Robson's design ensures that the art world and Artemesia's vocation are never far from your mind, intertwining it with events in court to indicate art's importance and power.
What is most striking is the way in which the play calmly and clearly shows gender inequality in action. A man stalking a woman is undeniably creepy, but in reporting the incident the woman is instead accused of being "prone to artistic licence"; the male defendant rants and rages yet tells his female victim to "calm down" as she provides a rational and steady account of the crime; the woman is tortured to verify her accusations, risking her future in various ways rather than putting the accused under the microscope. It's brilliant and incisive - and infuriating.
The three lead actors take turns to act as either a legal representative or the judge, which is obviously great in practical terms as scene transitions can be lightning quick (also helped by Kitty Hawkins' smart costume design), but also has the added bonus at one point of Ellice Stevens (Artemesia) cross-examining Agostino - something that Artemesia herself would be very keen on doing, no doubt.
Kathryn Bond is excellent as Tuzia Medaglia (the Gentileschis' neighbour); initially concerned with propriety and blinded by Agostino's charms, there is a slow realisation that dawns over her as she pieces both sides of the story together. Sophie Steer cuts an intimidating presence as Agostino, puffed up by his position as artist to the Pope and confident he'll have no difficulty in keeping the court on his side.
There is a bravery and fierceness about Ellice Stevens' portrayal of Artemesia; she lays herself bare, both literally and figuratively, in her fight for justice - and her passion for art proves to be as cathartic as it is creative. Her teamwork with Judith (Harriet Webb) of the painting Judith Slaying Holofernes is as inspiring as Emilia's rallying cry, and might also prove to be something of a firestarter of its own.
Despite there being a screen separating you from the action, this production is packed with power and rage that's as palpable in your own house as it is in an auditorium. Artemesia Gentileschi's story is one that deserves to be heard - and what better time than now?
Picture credit: Artemisia Films/Breach