It’s True, It’s True, It’s True

Image by Richard Davenport, The Other Richard

Written and devised using verbatim material by Ellice Stevens and Billy Barrett

Directed by Billy Barrett

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It’s True, It’s True, It’s True uses verbatim theatre to launch a blistering assault on the legal system’s attitude to women in rape and sexual assault cases, and how patriarchal perspectives inform how our truth is perceived. Ripping through the centuries comes the voice of Baroque painter Artemisia Gentileschi from the surviving pages of a 400 year old rape case in Rome. A seven month long court case in 1612 that pitched this remarkable 17 year old against Agostino Tassi, an older, established artist who had given her painting lessons and viciously raped her.

Using verbatim text is something Breach have honed as a theatrical tool throughout all five of their productions. They have a sensitivity to the material and a wonderfully creative and playful way of transposing it unto the stage in a way that works visually. Using clever design from Luke W Robson with lighting by Lucy Adams they create a rich Baroque environment that summons up painting studios but with a sinister hint of courtroom/prison torture chamber.

The pace is excellent here, this may be 400 year old court documents but Billy Barrett ensures they feel fresh, vivid and shockingly relevant to today. When the courtroom drama cuts to descriptions of Artemisia’s paintings of classical historical images, the energy shifts again. What ensues is cheeky and merciless as Ellice Stevens, Sophie Steer and Kathryn Bond do a glorious take on a Benny Hill style sketch and slice through traditional male stereotypical assumptions about female desire.

All three female performers take on the central roles and those of additional characters with great skill, integrity and energy. These are not easy roles to perform as they are embedded in the truth of real words spoken by a wounded young woman astounded by what the courts require of her to accept her truth. Ellice Stevens gives a brilliant performance as Artemisia allowing her a vulnerability that is laced with indignation, innate self confidence and an insistence that her voice be heard. She brings joy and power to this harrowing story of a young woman who emerges as a success and not as a victim.

Kathryn Bond has the tricky role of Tuzia who fails to protect or support her young charge yet is also the victim of bullying by the wily Tassi. She does a great job of evoking a gossipy, foolish woman who is easily swayed but not heartless either.

Sophie Steer takes on the most difficult role as the vicious rapist whose scheming ways and previous history of assaults are clearly documented in the court papers. She is mesmerising as she exudes a sense of Tassi’s narcissistic selfishness and brutal intent to trample on anyone in his path. As a actress she has an uncanny and brilliant capacity to step into a character’s skin like a chameleon. The shift from scheming rapist Tassi to avenging angel Judith is wonderful to observe as she literally sheds his skin and sex and reinvents herself as another character.

What we see on stage is outrageous, ghastly and painful but ultimately triumphant as Artemisia summons her heroine Judith to behead her offender Holofernes. Breach evoke a #MeToo through the ages as Patti Smith’s defiant anthem Gloria ricochets through the theatre and hopefully beyond. A celebration of Artemisia, her later achievements as an artist, and her words, ” as long as I live I will have control over my being…I’ll show you what a woman can do”.

HOME 8th Oct – 12th Oct 2019

Breach

TANK

HOME

DIRECTED BY Billy Barrett and Ellice Stevens

WRITTEN BY Billy Barrett, Joe Boylan, Craig Hamilton, Ellice Stevens and Victoria Watson

This is the kind of theatre experience that might leave an audience dumbstruck at times but is guaranteed to generate conversation in the bar afterwards. BREACH have produced a piece of partly verbatim theatre that can shock and provoke but is also a sensitive and moving portrayal of how inhumane humanity can be.

In the midst of Sixties Cold War paranoia NASA funded a ridulously indulgent experiment into animal neuroscience. John Lilley headed up a laboratory on St Thomas experimenting with 3 dolphins in captivity. The main protagonists of this true story are Margaret Howe Lovatt and Peter a young male dolphin. There seemed to be little emphasis on hard science as Margaret had no qualifications as a researcher other than she was curious and liked dolphins. Lilley was also curious, mainly about what effect LSD might have on a huge brain- it might be useful to mention his best mate directed all the Flipper movies! The aim was to teach the dolphins to speak English and so improve Mankinds chance of communicating with extra terrestials should we ever meet any.

The high or low point of five years of research was a 10 week period in which Margaret and Peter cohabited in a watery home. Peter did not learn to speak English but Margaret did learn how to masturbate a dolphin so maybe not an entire waste of time!

TANK uses dried out tapes of some surviving recordings of this research to illustrate this fishy tale and lo fi microphones to reproduce Peters attempts at language. The large video screen is used to show the underwater film of Peter and Margaret while the four actors on stage work to create a prism like take on what really occurred in the lab.

The actors bicker on stage as to the detail of the actual events. Margaret was “ruggedly feminine” and wore heels or boots or ….. Pam the dolphin had dried out traumatised skin or was covered in concealed blood. This is an odd couple love story or it’s a girl wanking off a gigantic dolphin cock. At the centre of this piece is the many facets of the story. Love, science, philosophy- how do we each perceive an event and how does experience colour our viewpoint? Here the women are wearily sensible  and frustrated by the men who sexualise  events like smutty schoolboys.

Joe Boylan is superb as Peter. He physically evokes the power and curiosity of the young dolphin. His is a totally believable performance and as he dances with the others the vibrancy and naughtiness bubbling through is totally infectious. Sophie Steer as Margaret vibrates with passion and despair as she attempts to communicate with Peter. There is an innocence and a whimsy to her that makes her masturbation of this dolphin seem sensuous and natural rather than sexualised which is exactly how the research assistant described her actions years later.

There are some delicious moments as they all sensuously dance together with blank faces or as they strip down and  Boylan puts on his dolphin mask. The air of menace is never far way as they fantasize about Margarets ruination and death at the fins of a dolphin army.

This is raw and edgy and joyous, it is dark theatre. It reminds us just how crazy humans can be but there can sometimes be a little magic in the crazy. TANK is good crazy.

POSTSCRIPT:

Twenty years after these experiments I spent a summer in Windsor researching parenting and attachment behaviours in dolphins. Two mother and their babies and I got to observe and play with them. It was heaven on earth.