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

The Drill

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Written by Billy Barrett and Ellice Stevens

Directed by Dorothy Allen-Pickard (video) and Billy Barrett (live)

The Drill is the latest production from Breach who create sharply intelligent and thought-provoking documentary-style theatre. Their previous work has focused on actual past events. The Beanfield recreated the 1985 clash between police and peace protesters while TANK took a disturbing and highly engaging trip back to the naive Sixties research study which attempted to teach dolphins to speak English. With The Drill they move into less certain territory as they explore anti-terror training looking at safety drills and emergency response procedures.

Three performers on stage have their own back stories in the performance reflecting various degrees of personal anxiety. Amarnah Amuludun is a trained dancer with a Nigerian heritage who is both frustrated and resigned to paying her bills by giving out leaflets in the busy concourse of a city railway station. Ellice Stevens displays all the modern day neuroses of a young woman faced with decisions about marriage, motherhood, mortgages in an increasingly dangerous world. Her catastrophic fantasies snowball and seem to merge into her sense of reality paralyzing her decision making process. Luke Lampard is bruised and fragile from a failed love affair and is seeking solace and distraction on Grindr though he may be potentially placing himself in real personal danger. Each of the back stories feel like small plays within the central performance creating vignettes of modern day neuroses.

Alongside their personal life stresses they have undergone a range of courses and workshops designed to drill them in anti-terror measures. These include preparing to deal with active shooters, searching out pipe bombs and other explosives and how to respond in the wake of a terrorist attack until the real emergency responders are on the scene.

On stage they act out possible threat scenarios while interacting with trained advisors on a projection screen. This cleverly looks at this growing industry based on targeting our greatest fears in modern society. The performers look at how these simulations and role plays have a strong basis in theatre training encouraging people to really engage at a deep level with what is termed safe controlled fear. As the role plays continue and become more extreme the reality is that these simulations start to break down as individual’s personal reactions colour the outcomes.

Immersive theatre is becoming increasingly popular and it’s interesting to think how this starts to merge with some of the terrorism scenarios real or imagined. Watching this in Manchester after the terrorism attack here last year and reflecting on shows like Blast Theory and Hydrocracker’s Operation Black Antler and the ANU production at HOME of On Corporation Street I kept thinking of the adage you only get out what you’re prepared to put in. It is clear that Breach is engaging with the real risks of what happens when we immerse ourselves and and up feeding fears rather than alleviating them. Perhaps adding workshops in building emotional resiliency might bring an interesting dimension to this performance. It is certainly something we could all benefit from in this uncertain world.

Perhaps the most disturbing element of The Drill is the random role swaps as they open notes to see who is Terrorist/Assailant, Victim, Responder. It is a chilling reminder that it could be any of us in any of those roles. From a psychological perspective it also cleverly mirrors the psychotherapeutic model of The Drama Triangle where we are Persecutor, Victim or Rescuer.

This is a thought provoking piece of theatre but it felt a little confused towards the end. Although real tension starts to build as the performers immerse themselves in the training scenarios it felt as though they may have felt constrained on some level doing this performance in Manchester post the actual terror attack here.

Growing up in Northern Ireland during the worst of “The Troubles”, I learned hyper vigilance and how to pre-empt danger as part of everyday life. I knew to open the windows in our house during bomb scares so glass didn’t blow in, to look under my Uncle’s car for suspect devices and to do first aid. I also learned to just get on with daily life because bad things will always happen. Having additional skills and strategies are valuable but in the end none of us can predict what exactly we will do in a crisis scenario – real or imagined.

HOME 14-16 June