Review by Laura Muldoon

Wed, 29 May 2013 12:15:24 

When it comes to Sappho, the lesbian community seem to have long felt an affinity towards her. A well-known lesbian icon, she has over time become inextricably linked to our culture and identity but have you ever read any of Sappho’s writing? It feels like she is something that has been passed down from one lesbian generation to the next, revered by many, but often without having much true understanding of what she was really all about.

Sappho… in 9 Fragments, written by Jane Montgomery Griffiths and directed by the unstoppable Jessica Ruano seems to go a long way to allow Sappho a voice to vent the frustration she feels at being twisted and molded to fit into different people’s views and beliefs. With Sappho’s current reputation based on the fragments of her writings that have survived, The Rose Theatre is a perfect space for her story to be told. On initially entering the theatre the darkness shrouds the space apart from a small scaffolding frame draped in white sheets and hiding a pensive vision of Sappho within. As the lights change the full extent of the Rose Theatre is revealed, a gaping hole where the historic theatre space once lay, full of questions about what was once there and what will come of it in the future as the majority of the theatre space is now an archeological site filled with water. The decaying hole that is revealed makes for an eerie setting, full of mystery, similar to the story of Sappho.

Sappho, played by Victoria Grove, stalks around the set, suspended from ropes and lunging into the audience creating an intimacy and intensity that makes a modern Londoner, used to hiding behind a mobile or laptop refreshingly uncomfortable. ‘Never prod a pebble on a beach’ repeats Sappho as she rants at the bastardisation of her texts but this is exactly what she does to the audience with an outspoken confidence that has been ripped away from her over the 1000s of years since her death. Grove changes between two different characters, an all-seeing time travelling Sappho and a contemporary Atthis, a young actress who falls in love with an older women, with a seamlessness which makes it difficult to notice when the characters have swapped as their stories and feelings merge into one.

The emotional articulation in this play is so spot on I found myself nodding along as Atthis was drawn in by someone vile yet simultaneously sweet, foul but also completely intoxicating, and as she describes the crippling feeling of heartbreak, the anxiety and torment of jealous love and the perpetual inner conflict about how we feel inside and what we let show on the outside.

As Grove hangs lifeless, stretches and swings from the set, choreographed competently by Ruano, the cold of the theatre (there’s no heating, take a coat) chills you through and lighting is used simply but effectively to highlight the emptiness Sappho feels as she looks out into the abyss and the gutted Rose Theatre is revealed to us.

The relationship between Atthis and her older lover is compelling and highlights the often overwhelming thrill of loving women and despite this being a one-woman show, during the love scene you can still feel the power this woman has over her and the vulnerability of being undressed and loving someone. In a modern society where words and actions are constantly skewed for self-gain in the media and literature this play offers little solace for the future as Sappho maligns the loss of her true identity but in consolation provides one of the most sensual and emotionally evocative theatre experiences I have had this year.

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