It's True, It's True, It's True: Verbatim Theatre, Staging Sexual Assault, and Female Representation in the Arts

Breach Theatre

Hannah Simpson, Sos Eltis, Billy Barrett and Ellice Stevens in conversation.

In 1612, Agostino Tassi, the pope’s favourite artist, was accused of raping 15-year-old artist Artemisia Gentileschi, resulting in a seven-month criminal trial. Based on surviving court transcripts, It’s True, It’s True, It’s True interweaves history, myth, satire and contemporary insight to ask: how much has really changed?

Breach Theatre’s devised show shone a spotlight on a remarkable woman who went on to triumph through her art. Three female actors interchanged roles, re-enacting both the trial and Gentileschi’s own celebrated biblical paintings, against a soundtrack of punk and baroque music.

We talk to director and co-writer Billy Barrett and co-writer and actor Ellice Stevens about the making of this multi-award-winning verbatim theatre piece. Join us for our conversation on verbatim theatre, staging sexual assault, and female representation in the arts.

Breach Theatre is an award-winning theatre company founded by theatre-makers Billy Barrett and Ellice Stevens and film-director Dorothy Allen-Pickard. The company combines rigorous research with captivating writing and devised performance to dramatise historical and current events. These have included a 1980s clash between riot police and new age travellers in The Beanfield, a 1970s experiment into teaching dolphins to speak English in Tank, and a 1612 rape trial in It’s True, It’s True, It’s True.

Billy Barrett is the director and co-writer of It's True, It's True, It's True. He is co-artistic director of Breach and a freelance director and writer. He studied theatre at Warwick University and Queen Mary University of London, and is currently writing his first book, a guide to long-term collaboration in theatre based on interviews with some of the UK's most groundbreaking companies.

Ellice Stevens is the co-writer of It’s True, It’s True, It’s True. She also performed as Artemisia in the original production, when the case were awared The Stage Award for Acting Excellence. She is co-artistic director of Breach and a freelance performer and writer, and has co-written, co-devised and co-performed in all Breach’s shows, and has worked with companies such as The Handlebards, Cut the Cord and Barrel Organ.

Dr Hannah Simpson is the Rosemary Pountney Junior Research Fellow in Theatre and Performance at St Anne’s College, University of Oxford. Her work focuses on politicised and affective representations of the human body in modern and contemporary literature, with a particular interest in depictions of physical pain and disability and in war literature. 

Dr Sos Eltis is Associate Professor and Tutorial Fellow in English at Brasenose College, University of Oxford. Her most recent book is Acts of Desire: Women and Sex on Stage, 1800-1930 (Oxford University Press), and she has published extensively on suffrage writing, representing labour on stage, and the plays of Oscar Wilde.

You can purchase the It’s True playtext here.

Re-Imagining Performance Network, TORCH Networks