Following a sold-out return to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe this summer, Breach Theatre’s award-winning production It’s True, It’s True, It’s True arrives in Bristol for the first time this month. The play is based on transcripts taken from the 1612 trial of Agostino Tassi, who was accused of raping fellow painter Artemisia Gentileschi while he was tutoring her at her father’s house.
Sticking closely to the original research but using modern language and featuring an all-female cast, It’s True, It’s True, It’s True tells what, at first, seems like an archaic tale of female empowerment in the face of ostracisation by a male-dominated society. But as the trial progresses and testimonies of situations all too familiar to a modern audience begin to emerge, we’re left asking: how much has really changed in the past 400 years?
So, how did Breach first came across this extraordinary tale? “We first heard about Artemisia Gentileschi in an article written about the Beyond Caravaggio exhibition at the National Gallery,” director Billy Barrett explains. “I brought the article to a company meeting, and when we saw pictures of Artemisia’s paintings, read about the rape trial and found out that the court transcripts still existed, we knew we had to find them.
When the company eventually tracked down the 80 pages of accounts, they found “a theatrical invitation”. “There were pages missing, literal holes in the pages which had been marked – there were gaps to fill in, and we wanted to try and do that.”
Despite documenting events from 400 years ago, the story lent itself all too well to a modern adaptation. “It was so easy to either use the transcripts verbatim or to re-write them in modern speech, because the facts of the case are still depressingly relevant today,” Billy continues.
“I guess the most archaic feature is how marriage features heavily in the court trial,” adds Ellice Stevens, who co-created the show and plays Artemisia Gentileschi. “It would all go away if Agostino only married Artemisia, and the fact that he’s broken his promise to do so is actually the reason the rape trial is brought to the court. To our modern sensibilities, it obviously didn’t feel like it would have been a victory if she had been forced to marry her rapist.”
So, how much really has changed in the past 400 years? “When we first performed this show it was August 2018 at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and the following month came the Kavanaugh trial [in which Brett Kavanaugh, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, was subject to a series of sexual assault allegations]. “It was strange to make a show and to watch it, retrospectively, become more relevant. There are huge similarities between the trials, both in the actual words that are said and the displays of power that are employed, and the two courtrooms don’t feel that far apart.
Breach’s play is performed by three women, in a set that mixes courtroom and artist’s studio. “We wanted to make a show with an all-female cast because Artemisia’s art was so much about women coming together to help each other, and we wanted to embed that in the form of the show.”
What do you hope to send audiences away thinking and feeling? “We hope the audience leave the show thinking about Artemisia’s whole story – not just the rape trial, but what she went on to achieve. And we hope they feel angry about what happened then and what’s happening now, but also hopeful for the future.”
It’s True, It’s True, It’s True is at the Wardrobe Theatre from Nov 12-16. For more info, visit thewardrobetheatre.com/livetheatre/its-true-its-true-its-true
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