HOME Theatre, Manchester; Tuesday 8th October, 2019
The year is 1612: in a packed courtroom in Renaissance Rome an aspiring young artist barely out of her teens is giving evidence against a man twice her age – she claims that he forced himself upon her, he vociferously denies any wrongdoing.
Artemisia Gentileschi is today revered as a Baroque master but her early life and her subsequent work was dominated and defined by the rape allegation against a man who was supposed to be her art tutor.
It’s True, It’s True, It’s True is constructed from surviving transcripts of the actual court case, which lasted fully seven months. The action is tense and nerve-wracking – an intriguing concoction that deftly mixes the infuriating formality of staid legal proceedings with high-paced re-enactments of the evidence being given.
Despite a running time of only one hour the show manages to generate terrifying levels of tension, manifested quite literally in disturbing scenes where Artemesia is asked to endure torture by thumbscrew in order to demonstrate her virtue and honesty.
The cast of three take on multiple roles, regularly switching between the primary players: the judge; the accused; and Artemisia herself. Arguably, this switching is theatrically unnecessary, but it’s done in a reasonably coherent manner and works surprisingly well thanks to the clear punctuation provided by clever lighting changes and musical shifts.
The accused man (played by Sophie Steer) begins in a meek and innocent manner, a character expressing incredulous bemusement at his predicament in the courtroom. But by the end of the show he has transformed into something far more arrogant – a man who simply demands that the court actuate his perceived right to male privilege. Steer’s characterisation is excellent, at times he is believable and a viable proposition, but an air of unpleasant pretentiousness grows ever stronger as the story unfolds until a point is reached where all sympathy is exhausted.
Artemisia (Ellice Stevens) is a compelling accuser, close to breaking the fourth wall at points as she expresses disbelief at the extraordinary leniency being shown to male defendants in 17th century Italian judicial processes. Artemisia oozes credibility, her assertions are rational, her recollections are lucid – she is in a battle is against the establishment, not just in terms of the burden of proof needed to convict a man of rape but also in context of 17th century Rome and its cultural notions of marriage being used as a get-out-of-jail card for rapists.
For the majority of the show the theatre is transformed into a courtroom scene, the audience become the respectable ladies and gentlemen of the day who are present to witness proceedings, perhaps even to cast judgement? But against this background are some wonderfully artistics moments where Artemisia breaks into to a re-enactment of her evidence, fully adding contextual provenance to some of her best known masterpieces – pieces which depict biblical scenes of women committing violent acts against men. Perhaps the use of such biblical scenes were her only way of safely expressing her anger through what was presumably an acceptable manifestation of high art at that time?
It’s True, It’s True, It’s True brilliantly builds up an uneasy world of high tension and then tantalisingly holds on to it. Revelations and surprises add unusual twists to the plot and the verdict is not revealed till the very end. Throughout the show, circumstances and testimonies seem to contradict each other and leave a bafflingly mysterious uncertainty as to who is telling the truth.
It’s True, It’s True, It’s True is a fascinating insight into a bygone age – a performance which primarily paints broad strokes of infuriating injustice but which also adds fine detail in the shape of sharp comicality which precisely attacks the indefensible. This show goes a long way towards setting the explanatory framework for her million-dollar paintings, it also seems to suggest that there is yet much more to be learnt from the intriguing story of Artemisia Gentileschi.
Photography: The Other Richard
|Visual pleasure||The set appears to be that of an artist’s studio with easels and a large paint-stained canvas. Three chairs form the centre of the action, each one one being transformed from chair to plinth as the courtroom action unfolds.||4|
|Auditory pleasure||A rather unusual mixture of rock music between the scenes which somehow managed to work against the much more delicate choir / hymn recitals which evoked a clear connection with Rome at the time.||4|
|Architecture & Theme||An incredibly compelling story beautifully crafted with switches between courtroom action and Artemisia re-enacting the influences for the masterpieces which she created. The tension generated is extraordinary.||5|
|Artistic delivery||Three excellent performances, especially given that each individual was playing multiple roles. Yet the rotation was smooth and coherent, the changes in accent and body language always made it clear ear what was going on.||4|
|Overall impact||An extraordinarily moving story told in a unique and innovative way. Immediately injects an urgent need to learn more.||5|
|0||Detrimental – This aspect of the performance was so bad that it made the overall experience worse|
|1||Weak – This aspect of the performance was poor|
|2||Adequate – This aspect of the performance was perfectly acceptable, though nothing special|
|3||Good – This aspect of the performance was above average, it pleased in some way|
|4||Excellent – This aspect of the performance was much better than normal, it was impressive|
|5||Awe-inspiring – This aspect of the performance was exceptional, new boundaries were pushed.|