It's True, It's True, It's True
Breach Theatre / Untapped by Underbelly and New Diorama Theatre
It's not surprising that 2018 has seen a particularly feminist and LGBTQ bent to proceedings at the Fringe; the prevalence of the #MeToo movement has ensured that we are treated to a host of new ideas and voices along these lines.
The Fringe has always been about the cutting edge meeting the classical and blending with the topical and it's hard to think of a concept more fitting that description than It's True, It's True, It's True.
Based on surviving transcripts of the seven-month-long trial that scandalised 17th-century Rome, Breach Theatre brings to the stage the story of Artemesia Gentileschi, the baroque painter who was raped by Agostino Tassi, a friend of the family and favourite artist of the Pope, portrayed on a simple stage that is part-courtroom, part-art studio, giving the whole affair a striking surreality that fits with the classical contemporaneity of the piece.
The players, Ellice Stevens, Sophie Steer and Kathryn Boyd, put considerable ingenuity into the performances as they flit between three modifiable props that act as seats, the stand and even a torture device at points in the play. Stevens excels as Artemesia, whose frankness, conviction and steadfast resolve to see justice done never fails to elicit tears, gasps and the occasional whoop from the audience.
Steer plays the arrogant and frankly dispicable, Agostino Tassi with considerable relish, fitting well to the picture that history has painted of him. All three actors also take turns portraying a variety of other witnesses, as well as the role of the judge.
In a novel stroke, in keeping with the surreal stylings of the play, the actors also create, in tableau form, a recreation of a pair of Gentileschi's most famed works: Susanna and the Elders, and Judith slaying Holofernes, in both cases using the act of portrayal as a clever device, not only describing the unique particulars of her rendering of these scenes, but also in how her take eschewed the traditional male gaze at work in such biblical scenes.
It's significant that the beginning of the play makes a definite point of saying that "all of this is true", because truth is at the heart of the play, not merely the veracity of the events portrayed, but the fundamental echoing truth of the situations and attitudes it portrays, which have sadly changed little to this day.
It's a fine balancing act, as it never feels that the play is preaching to the audience, rather instead, hammering home reality. From the stark undeniable nature of the testimonies, to Artemesia's unflinchable will in stating her stance over and over again, the play is a howl in the face of a patriarchal world of dismissive and misogynistic attitudes, which still exist, largely unaltered, more than four hundred years later.
It's a shame then that an occasionally ragged feel to the action onstage and the abrupt end of the play let proceedings down. This is in part because the last few pages of the court transcript have been lost to the ages, necessitating a change in mode to fill in details, but the choice to sum things up neatly in a short aside to the audience before launching into a Patti Smith song felt cheapening to the inspired nature of what had come before.
Although the choice of song was in keeping with the scene-changing crashes of punk music, the feminist 'riot grrl-eqsque' outlook of the production and the slightly wry and irreverent nature of the staging and acting, it felt as if the piece had shifted down a gear from a top-drawer Fringe show to an end of year student production.