Since 600 BC, Sappho has been composing wedding songs and writing sensual poems circulated on fragmentary papyrus through the millennia and around the world. And now, twenty-six centuries later, she releases her much-anticipated first-ever full-length audio recording. Praise Aphrodite!
In celebration of this epic achievement from Ancient Greece’s infamous poet, actor Victoria Grove and director Jessica Ruano are remounting their award-winning production of ‘SAPPHO…in 9 fragments’ by Jane Montgomery Griffiths for THREE NIGHTS ONLY in East London’s ARCH 1 from 7th to 9th May, 2014.
ARCH 1 (arch1.co.uk), managed by Robert Clarke, is an intimate live music and performance venue located underneath a railway arch in East London. For the past 5 years, ARCH 1 has hosted a wild array of up-and-coming musicians, comedians and performers in its unique setting. SAPPHO will be the first theatre production to play at this venue.
SAPPHO …in 9 fragments plays at ARCH 1 Live Music, Cranberry Lane, East London, E16 4BJ. Closest stations: West Ham (Jubilee line) and Star Lane (DLR). 7th to 9th May, 2014, Wednesday to Friday at 8pm.
Advance Tickets: $12/10 at http://arch1.co.uk/index.php/get-tickets.
Audio recordings of the script – produced by Richard Causon at Leif Storm Studios – may be purchased online, or at the venue.
If you’re not already following, be sure to check out our Twitter page @sappho9fragment for daily Sappho poems in celebration of National Poetry Month. Twenty-six centuries later, and the old girl’s still publishing!
Thanks to Julie Laurin for this beautiful video of Sappho’s performance in Ottawa this June.
Sappho…in 9 Fragments – Until 10 August, 19:15, theSpace @ Venue 45
Reviewed by Vivienne Egan
A lone woman twists and writhes in a maze of ropes, her husky voice echoing from behind curtains in a foreign tongue. This is Sappho, the woman whose poetry and practice gave birth to the term lesbian as we know it today. Despite her fame and notoriety, there are only nine extant fragments of her work today, leaving us with gaps, textual lacunas, to fill.
These gaps take on a highly symbolic quality within this one-woman play by Jane Montgomery Griffiths, as the ancient Sappho revels in her subversiveness and rails against the voices overlaid on her work by men, who attempt to fill in the gaps, “mansplaining” Sappho to the masses.
As they play progresses, we see a modern day Sapphic love story play out between two women, actors in a piece of ancient Greek theatre: one, a mature and respected performer, the other a recent graduate who falls in love with her, Atthis (the object of the literary Sappho’s love). The searing pain and unbearable longing that makes Sappho’s work so remarkable is brought to life with a startling immediacy.
Victoria Grove’s performance of Sappho/Atthis is many things that are culturally forbidden of women: in control, physically dominant and even aggressive. She gets sweaty, she subverts heteronormativity. It’s at once highly literary and basely animalistic. With only a short Fringe run, it’s sure to sell out.
Review by Libby Purves, former theatre critic for The Times
An almost unbelievable hour. Victoria Grove, directed by Jessica Ruano, speaks sometimes as Sappho reflecting on her life and the images succeeding centuries have had of her – poet, lover, lesbian, dissident, mother, suicide, symbol of women’s education or just an empty vessel for female longings.
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.
Sappho…in 9 Fragments
the Space @ Venue 45
7.15pm (run ends 10th Aug) Review by Carrie Gooch
This was stunningly good. Sappho …in 9 Fragments is about the famous mysterious Greek lyric poet from the island of Lesbos 600 BC. The play by Jane Montgomery Griffiths explores Sappho’s experience at that time, her treatment at the hands of historians over time, and the suppression and perversion of her story, and woven through the narrative is a modern day Sapphic romance with a chorus girl named Atthis…
The athletically supple and beautiful Victoria Grove as Sappho gives a compelling and brilliant performance, whether locking eyes with the audience, capturing the erotic passion of first love, or tying herself up and hanging upside down from the set of scaffold, muslin drapes and thick rope. The result is a performance of great intimacy and yet powerful. The words dance around, from the ancient past, to current times, in less deft hands it would be dreadfully disjointed, but instead pulls us in ever closer.
This is a must see if you possibly can, but with such a short run you will need to book in fast.
For the past several days, I have been doing this:
(Photo credit: David Robertson)
Right in the middle of the Royal Mile, I spell out the word ‘Sappho’ or the word ‘Lesbian’ with the rope we use in the show. And then I park myself behind the word and hold up flyers for the show. When people pass by, many of them reading the word, I smile at them gleefully. If they smile back, I offer them a flyer.
It is most frequently children who read aloud the word, or ask their parents to read it aloud for them. If someone says the word quite loudly, I call back ‘Yay!’ and pump my fist in the air. Sometimes people sit with me and we have a conversation: I tell them that the show is about Sappho, the first love poet, who lived in Ancient Greece on the island of Lesbos (hence Lesbian with a capital ‘L’, as, strictly speaking, Sappho was probably bisexual – not that they ever bothered with those labels). I tell them the show is an ‘acrobatic love story’ and share photos with them.
One man told me he had been to Lesbos and told me I had to visit. Two women holding hands came up to me and told me I had made their day, which, in turn, made my day. Tourists often take photos of me without asking, but I don’t mind; I volunteer to pose for them and encourage them to post their photos on Facebook.
I’m choosing this approach to promoting the show, because I’m finding that people are quickly becoming disillusioned by the Fringe artists who push flyers in their faces, quoting star ratings and reviews, and being generally loud and overwhelming. I’m attempting the quieter method because, this way, people come to me.
Other Fringe artists ask me why I bothered to promote the show so far in advance, since it opens a week into the festival and only plays for three days. I reply that, partly, we haven’t received much media coverage for this run of the show (nobody really wants to cover/review a show that is only playing in Edinburgh for three days, when most shows are playing for a month), so I’m doing what I can to get audiences.
But it’s more than that: for me, this rope thing has become a performance in itself. I engage with people directly: I make eye contact, I smile, I challenge them in my own subtle way. When they stand in front of the word ‘Lesbian’ and raise their eyebrows, I say ‘How’s my handwriting?’ as though my calligraphy skills would be at the forefront of their thoughts.
Even though I don’t identify as a ‘lesbian’ (I’m a ‘date whoever I want’ ‘who needs labels’ kinda girl), I happily play the role for the sake of publicity – especially because I don’t look like a stereotypical lesbian, so that in itself may challenge people’s expectations and make them question their assumptions about queer people. ‘Is she actually gay…?’ they might wonder. Does it matter?
Whether or not these passer-bys decide to see the show, I like to think I’m getting the words ‘Sappho’ and ‘Lesbian’ into their heads, normalizing the words, letting them stand on their own without making any real statement about them. They’re just there. There they are. They exist, and they become part of our vocabulary, if only for a moment.
I wouldn’t be able to do this in Russia. I wouldn’t be able to do this in most countries in the world. But here, I feel safe. I don’t feel threatened or ostracized or uncomfortable. I haven’t experienced even one dirty look about my choice of words. People sometimes laugh or roll their eyes at me, but I just smile back, kindly yet defiantly. And I wouldn’t have this privilege everywhere.
I am very lucky. We are all very lucky.
Sappho…in 9 fragments plays Thursday, August 8th, Friday, August 9th, and Saturday, August 10th at theSpace Venue 45 on Jeffrey Street. For more information and advance tickets: https://www.edfringe.com/whats-on/theatre/sappho-in-9-fragments
Attempting to put up posters on The Royal Mile proves a bit of a challenge…
Me: “Hi, may I put a poster up on your wall?”
Bar Manager: “Will you give us free tickets to your show?”
Me: “Sure. How many would you like?”
Bar Manager: “Six.”
Me: “Okay. Here’s my business card, so just email me, and I’ll put you on the guest list.”
Bar Manager: “No, you give me the tickets, and I’ll let you put up a poster.”
Me: “Uh, it doesn’t quite work like that.”
Bar Manager (to an employee): “Do you want to see this show?”
Employee (looks at my poster): “Naw.”
This story has a happy ending, as I was eventually allowed to put up a poster in a quite nice location. Now let’s see how long it stays there.