Theatre Review: It’s True, It’s True, It’s True at The Leeds Playhouse

Multi-award-winning Breach Theatre bring their shocking staging of a rape trial to Bramall Rock Void where LEO OWEN caught the show

BASING their play on a seven-month court case from 1612 Renaissance Rome, Breach use surviving court documents with questions in Latin and answers in Italian to shape the story of Artemisia Gentileschi, a gifted Baroque artist (famed for versions of Susanna and the Elders and Judith Slaying Holofernes), painting at a time when women were not supposed to be artists.

Backed by her father, Gentileschi brought a rape accusation against her tutor Agostino Tassi, painter to the pope. Despite being known for a history of violence with multiple previous convictions, in a world dominated by men, Tassi was merely questioned while as plaintiff Gentileschi’s honesty was put to the test under thumb screws. Having potentially ruined Gentileschi’s career as an artist, the judge callously admits, “We can’t risk Signor Tassi’s hands.”

Told in relay by three exceedingly talented and versatile cast taking on multiple roles, the play’s name stems from evidence in the source material of Gentileschi’s repeated earnest assertion “it is true” when forced to give testimony. Luke W. Robson’s set design has the courtroom made up like an artist’s studio with decorating ladders, paint pots and dust sheets, always reminding us of Gentileschi’s talent. Work benches become the stands, tables and stools of the trial as the fierce cross-examination takes place. Although there are nods to period costume, the cast predominantly wear men’s suits with outsized shirt cuffs and collars, cleverly symbolising a switch in role through distinct character physicality.

Regular Breach performers Ellice Stevens and Sophie Steer for the most part take on the central roles of accuser and defendant. Steer as Tassi is disgustingly convincing, almost eliciting genuine hate from the audience. Meanwhile, Stevens gives an exhausting emotionally raw performance while Kathryn Bond ably plays multiple parts.

With very graphic descriptions of the rape, jarring unexpected sing-alongs, manic music blaring between scenes and on-stage nudity, It’s True, It’s True, It’s True quite rightly makes for uncomfortable viewing, acutely highlighting the inequality faced by women. Particularly relevant in the current “#MeToo movement” climate and as allegations against Jeffrey Epstein, the American financier and convicted sex offender, resurface, Breach’s production topically poses questions about how women are viewed in society and the exploitation of power by men.

It’s True, It’s True, It’s True showed at The Leeds Playhouse from November 21- 23.