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It’s True, It’s True, It’s True review at Underbelly, Edinburgh – ‘fascinating portrayal of 17th-century rape trial’

Ellice Stevens, Kathryn Bond and Sophie Steer in It's True, It's True, It's True at Underbelly, Edinburgh. Photo: The Other Richard Ellice Stevens, Kathryn Bond and Sophie Steer in It's True, It's True, It's True at Underbelly, Edinburgh. Photo: The Other Richard

Artemisia Gentileschi was one of the most significant artists of her age. She painted at a time when women were not supposed to be artists. She was the first woman to be admitted into the Florence Accademia. When she was a teenager she was raped by Agostino Tassi, a painter to the pope, and the case went to court in Rome.

Breach theatre company’s fascinating new devised piece is based on the transcripts of the trial. Dressed in severe suits, Ellice Stevens plays Gentileschi, Sophie Steer and Kathryn Bond play Tassi and the other witnesses.

Gentileschi describes, in detail, how she was assaulted, how he forced her legs apart, how he covered her mouth so she could not scream. Her reputation is attacked, again and again. She’s accused of sleeping with multiple men. She’s bullied and slandered by men repelled by her audacity, threatened by her talent and strength. She’s tortured, but never stops insisting that her story is true.

It’s True, It’s True, It’s True glitters with anger, a taut thread stretching from the 17th century to the present. Stevens’ eyes shine with resistance. They cannot break her.

Billy Barrett’s considered, intelligent production uses metal decorators stands to make the stage part courtroom, part studio. Gentileschi’s art is central to the story being told. Her paintings, including those of Judith Beheading Holofernes and Susanna and the Elders, give her a voice that we can still hear.

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Fascinating and potent verbatim devised piece based on a 17th-century rape trial