Thursday, 10 October 2019

THEATRE REVIEW: It's True, It's True, It's True - HOME, Manchester.


Breach Theatre are one of Britain’s most exciting new companies, and their latest work “It’s True, It’s True, It’s True” reaches back to the seventeenth century to highlight issues still of relevance in the twenty first. This dramatisation of the rape trial of Italian painter Artemisia Gentileschi, complete with pounding rock soundtrack, was performed tonight at HOME in Manchester as part of a tour.

The actual court transcripts, translated from Latin and Italian, were used as the script. A set consisting of modern metal scaffolding in front of an antiquated golden background, designed by Luke W Robson, kept the production inside and outside of the centuries simultaneously. Three female actors, dressed in modern black suits and white, stiff-collared shirts, strode on against a soulful recording of vocal Renaissance music, and the trial immediately began.

The three actors played a wide variety of characters between them, in modern Londoner-based characterisations. Sophie Steer is an incredible actor, and was absolutely superb as the defendant Agostino Tassi. As the arrogant Italian painter accused of raping Artemisia, Steer kept up a taut, twitchy masculine characterisation full of fiddly small details, alternating between ducking around lawyers’ questions and making counter-accusations of his own. Nervy and yet capable of great stillness, Agostino bullied his way through the story and the Gentileschi household, and, when thumb-screwing was politely mentioned to Artemisia by a lawyer to beef up her testimony, Agostino’s hands that created works of art for the Pope were the most valuable items in the room, not Artemisia’s destroyed teenage hymen. Or Artemisia’s own painter’s hands. And didn’t Steer’s Agostino know it.

Kathryn Bond joined Steer and Ellice Stevens in some costumed onstage re-enactments of Artemisia’s Biblical paintings, including a lecherous Elder in “Susanna And The Elders” and the drunken Holofernes getting his throat slashed open in “Judith Slaying Holofernes”. Her main character though was Artemisia’s chaperone, Donna Tuzia. Bond brought a truthful sincerity to this rather bumbling and small-worlded woman, who flipped around from being charged by Artemisia’s father to keep his daughter in line, to being manipulated by Agostino so that he could be alone with his targeted victim. She was one of the softly-spoken lawyers, unfailing in politeness, and part of a dizzying array of local men brought in to testify to Artemisia’s alleged sluttiness. This montage filled the stage with the supposed orgies that were taking place in the Gentileschi house, and an elderly lady in the audience had to leave the room at that point.

Anchoring the piece was the solid and down-to-earth performance of Ellice Stevens as the seventeen-year-old Artemisia. Initially armoured like the others in a tightly-buttoned suit, she several times stripped off the clothes to just a pair of flesh-coloured big knickers and all her natural bodyhair. She was calm; she was patient; she was unflappable – probably a lot more so than the real Artemisia had been at the time – and again, and again, she explained: “It’s true. It’s true. It’s true.” And the leaving impression was: how many more times down the centuries does that have to be said?

Reviewer - Thalia Terpsichore
on - 9/10/19

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