Review by Joseph Cunningham
As fleeting as the surviving Sapphic snippets themselves, Sappho… In 9 Fragments shall vanish from Edinburgh come tomorrow and this review will be nothing more than dusty scholarship forcing assertions onto an absent void. There’s got to be some sort of metaphor here. Jane Montgomery Griffiths and Jessica Ruano present a rich tale of Sappho (Victoria Grove) lamenting her fragmented existence. Exceptionally little remains from the pioneer of love poetry – who also happened to be both female and bisexual – and almost all of our knowledge is derived from scholarly speculation on what is, in essence, an empty space. Spliced into the complaint is a narrative inspired by On Love & Desire fragment V: two lines of which exist. This is the delicious irony of the show. Sappho may be naught but distortion, yet distortion is all we have. Her words may be missing, yet the beauty of her poetry lives on in many forms.
Grove’s performance oozes luxury. Sensuous and husky, listening to her delivery of the euphonic script feels like it should be a forbidden pleasure. Effortlessly athletic, she swings, stretches, swoops about the stage. The whole experience could be likened to drowning in honey. Much like drowning in honey, this isn’t necessarily a good thing. It is so easy to relax and enjoy the sights and sounds of the performance that occasionally the storyline becomes hard to follow, particularly if one does not possess significant knowledge of Greek Lyric and its derivatives. It’s the same problem as with Shakespeare: only the knowledgeable can afford not to strain to concentrate.
Utterly spellbinding to watch is the use of the set: a crudely constructed cube of steel bars with ropes slicing through like a spider web. An incomplete set for an incomplete character, Sappho in the creation of her story twists and contorts the ropes to fashion her images. It is beautiful and ties in perfectly with the message of the show.
Equal parts playful and intense, this production is mesmerising. Heavy, heady, I still have honey coming out of my eyeballs.