It's True, It's True, It's True
- Gareth K Vile
- 29 August 2018
The reconstruction of historical misogyny
If the rise in feminist theatre across the past five years at the Edinburgh Fringe has often focussed on telling contemporary women's stories, 2018 has seen an additional emphasis on reconsidering the past and the systemic misogyny that ensured that women were oppressed and undermined. The career of Artemisia Gentileschi – one of the few women painters of the baroque era who has taken her place in the canon – combines an inspiring story of determination and, as studied in Breach Theatre's production, the depressing violence of both individuals and a society threatened by female creativity.
Using verbatim transcripts from the trial of Agostino Tassi, Artemisia's tutor who raped her, It's True manages to harness outrage at the treatment of women during the Renaissance – both in and out of court, Artemisia's virtue is constantly on trial – and a flexible dramaturgy that breaks the tragic and melodramatic formulae for an unflinching examination of how Tassi is able, through his social status and, through Sophie Steer's smooth, cunning and cruel performance, force of personality, to deflect attention from his persistent harassment of a young woman back onto her alleged behaviour. The pattern of the trial is all too familiar – the victim ends up as the accused and is compelled to relive the attack, is tortured to prove her innocence. The final celebratory singing of Patti Smith's 'Gloria' is an unnecessary connection to the twentieth century, since the misogyny on display has held its place and power.
Through the verbatim reproduction of the trial, and the extended interludes that discuss how Artemisia expressed the oppression of the male gaze in her painting, Breach Theatre build on the feminist dramaturgies suggested by Wild Bore or Two Man Show. Fluid, multiple perspectives, the slipping between genres, a refusal to follow predictable structures, a confrontational use of the naked body: It's True integrates historical documentary and a rolling attack on the intrinsic masculine assumptions of theatrical genre. It struggles to reconcile its desire to celebrate the female artist with the wretched violence enacted on her – the attempt at a comic scene mocks the cheapening of harassment but undermines the seriousness of the trial, while the rendition of Gloria abruptly shifts the mood to triumphant defiance without grounding the lyrics (a rather ambiguous story of male sexual triumphalism made uncanny by Smith's version) in the events of the play. This clumsiness aside, however, It's True is a raw and forceful example of intelligent and emotive feminist dramaturgy.