Blending Renaissance history into modern commentary, It’s True, It’s True, It’s True is a ferociously feminist retelling of the 1612 trial of Agostino Tassi, accused of raping the Baroque painter Artemisia Gentileschi.
Based on remaining court transcripts, the play pivots around Agostino’s private visits to the Gentileschi household and the events that resulted from his position as Artemisia’s painting tutor. The three-woman cast (Kathryn Bond, Sophie Steer, Ellice Stevens) artfully interchange roles between scenes, maintaining on-stage tension between the protagonists whilst also sliding through a series of minor characters. The story, framed around a steely courtroom setting, explores the troubling reality of how corrupted witness statements and fragments of gossip can sway legal cases away from what is ‘true’.
The play’s most powerful scenes arise from Steven’s fierce yet vulnerable take on Artemisia. In a restrained retelling of Agostino’s assault, Stevens quietly redresses herself with one item of clothing at a time. Her pauses are agonisingly long, forcing her words to reverberate across an almost bare set. Towards the end of the performance, her repeated pleas of “it is true it is true it is true” are spoken to each audience member in turn, causing a few silent spectators to twist uncomfortably in their seats.
There’s still room for some lighter moments throughout the performance, however. In her cutting depiction of Agostino, Sophie Steer seizes many opportunities for comic relief through furious screams of “SLAAAAAG!”, followed by laughably insincere apologies to the court of law (the audience). Steer ensures these tongue-in-cheek moments don’t ever downplay the full weight of her character’s crime. All three actors wear suits with oversized shirt cuffs and collars, a hilariously subtle dig at the masculine figures who sit at the top of legal power systems.
The stylistic strength of the show wavers only slightly in its closing scene, as Stevens hollers out an unapologetic rendition of Patti Smith’s ‘Gloria’ with Steer and Bond as backup vocalists. Following the sheer vulnerability of the performance up to this point, this sudden shift towards something resembling a West End finale felt a bit jarring. Even so, it’s impossible not to bask in the triumphant lyrics “Jesus died for someone’s sins, but not mine” as Artemisia becomes an unyielding voice roaring across history and into the present day.