It’s True, It’s True, It’s True, Underbelly Cowgate (Venue 61) ****
Jet Of Blood, Zoo Charteris (Venue 124) ***
Pickle Jar, Underbelly Cowgate (Venue 61) ****
Few of them, though, speak with a female voice as clear, strong, and deeply rooted in history as Breach Theatre’s remarkable new show It’s True, It’s True, It’s True, based on the largely untold story of the great 17th century woman painter Artemisia Gentileschi, who at the age of 17 brought a complaint of rape against Agostino Tassi, a friend of her father’s who stalked her and attacked her in her own home.
The court records of Tassi’s trial still exist; and what Breach theatre have produced, based on those records, is essentially a piece of verbatim theatre reflecting events in Rome 400 years ago, that nonetheless echoes in stunning detail the experiences rape victims still often undergo today, from the systematic attempts to label Artemisia as a slut, to the sense that when the case came to court, it was she who was on trial – to the extent of being tortured with thumbscrews to assess whether she was telling the truth.
All of this is conveyed in fine Brechtian style by Kathryn Bond and Sophie Steer, playing a range of roles, and a magnificent Ellice Stevens as Artemisia, a steady, courageous, and furious one-woman phalanx of resistance to all the patriarchal power massed against her. There’s a startling but justly raging rock score and a fine set by Luke W Robson of steel stools and chairs that convert in a flick into easels, or instruments of torture.
And although Artemisia’s anger is palpable, so is her mighty, focussed determination to get even; to live, to paint, and to overcome the slanders laid on her by men barely worthy of her contempt – all of which, joyously, she succeeded in doing.
If the Artemisia of It’s True, It’s True, It’s True is not a woman to waste time on self-reproach, that’s not the case with the heroines of Jet of Blood at Zoo Charteris, and Pickle Jar at the Underbelly, for whom guilt about their own failure to report men who then go on to abuse even more vulnerable victims becomes a major burden.
In Jet of Blood (partly inspired by Artaud’s Theatre of Cruelty piece of the same name) writer Mari Moriarty – born a boy – uses the female figure of dancer-performer Alexandra Miyashiro to represent her young self, raped at the age of 14 by a classmate, played by actor and dancer Matthew Brown.
In an initially wordless ecstasy of dance, movement and sexual imagery, we trace the damage suffered as a consequence of the rape, over many years; the show has a tempestuous score of rock classics and ballet music that sustains an almost painful pitch of emotional intensity.
It’s when the central character discovers that her rapist is now working as a babysitter, though, that the show begins to use language to explore the depth of her self-reproach; and if the show’s final scene is just too full of unprocessed anger and outrage – driven by Tchaikovsky at his most romantic and thunderous – to avoid absurdity, Jet of Blood remains a furious and unforgettable journey into the rage of rape victims, and the complexity of the ways in which their sense of self-worth is ravaged, perhaps for ever.
In Pickle Jar, by contrast, Maddie Rice both writes and performs a well-shaped and quietly tragic piece about a dedicated schoolteacher who fails to report a messy but undoubtedly abusive encounter with a male colleague on a staff night out.
A few months later, one of her favourite pupils takes her own life; and when the story of the reasons for her death begins to emerge, the central character spirals down into an all-too-recognisable female pit of depression and self-blame.
Rice plays all the characters of the drama with huge charm and feeling, deftly situating the story in a small-town culture where drunken nights out with bad consequences are the norm, rather than the exception.
And although the narrative comes with a final flicker of hope, it once again affirms that the damage inflicted by rape is never simple; and often rolls on through a lifetime of pain, damage and self-doubt.
• It’s True, It’s True, It’s True until 26 August, 2:50pm. Jet of Blood until 27 August, 2:10pm. Pickle Jar until 26 August, today 4:40pm.