REVIEW: ✭✭✭✭✭ ScotsGay Magazine

ScotsGayTheatre ✭✭✭✭✭
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.

Sappho on the streets

For the past several days, I have been doing this:

Jessica 2

(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:

Most depressing exchange ever

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.

Sappho on the ropes

Just trying out ideas for promoting the show on the Royal Mile. That area gets a little nuts during the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, with people shoving flyers in your faces constantly. So I thought I’d try for the quieter street art approach. If you have suggestions, I’d love to hear them.

By the way, this is the actual rope we use in the show whereon Victoria performs all her acrobatics. So hopefully it doesn’t get too wet…!

Interview with Jessica Ruano in Female Arts

Sappho Artist's ImpressionSophieWho's picture

by Sophie Porter
 July 23, 2013 – 16:46
Painting by Tamaya Garner

1) Your current project ‘Sappho in 9 Fragments’ sees you working with actress Victoria Grove. How did you come together to work on this project?

She and I worked together over a year ago on another fantastic play called La Chunga by Mario Vargas Llosa. It was my first assistant directing gig in London. Victoria was devastatingly brilliant as the title character – a rough yet sensual Peruvian bar owner – and I wondered how I could convince her to work with me again. Offering her a role as Ancient Greece’s infamous love poet seemed to do the trick!

2) Your adaptation of ‘Sappho in 9 Fragments’ has received compliments and critical acclaim from some of Britain’s finest actors such as Simon Callow and Maureen Lipman as well as four star reviews! How does it feel to have created what critics have called a “masterpiece”? Did you know straight away you were working on something special?

I knew Jane Montgomery Griffiths’ script had power, and I knew Victoria had talent, and I knew our design concept had potential. But no, the success of this production was entirely unprecedented. Up until our opening night, we were incredibly nervous about how the show might be received. Forty five performances later, I still delight in watching this play: I am unabashedly in love with it.

3) Talk us through the process of adaptation. Where did the unusual and striking set design come from for ‘Sappho…’? What challenges did you face, particularly considering the density of the dramatic question (how do you tell a story from fragments?)? How did you overcome these challenges? 

It was Victoria who noticed the repeated use of the word ‘suspension’ in the script and pondered if there was a way for us to ‘suspend’ her in the air for the performance. Our keen designer Ana Ines Jabares Pita took that idea and soared with it, creating for us the most dexterous set of ropes and scaffolding I could have imagined. She scored an ‘Outstanding Design’ award for that one!

The set actually helps us tell this rather unusually constructed story. The structure (playfully nicknamed ‘Scaffo’) is a partner to Victoria, alone onstage, allowing her to weave her story almost literally.

Some of the writing is abstract, especially at the beginning, but I find it beautiful, and I love that the story unravels itself slowly. The line ‘How do you tell a story when there are so many gaps?’ reminds us that we don’t and can’t have all the answers, and we needn’t get all hung up on it, so to speak.

4) Do you think there is equality in the workplace? If not, why?

In a word, no. But statistics can speak louder than I can.

Men still dominate the theatre and performing arts industry. There are far more successful male playwrights and male directors and male producers, and plays about men are still seen as more ‘universal’.

So, among other things, one of my aims as a director is to produce plays by women that showcase meaningful relationships between women, and for these plays to appeal to a wide spectrum of people. Just to even things out a little.

5) Tell us about your career background; where did you train? How long did it take? 

I studied English and Theatre at the University of Ottawa, and I have an MA in Dramaturgy, which is essentially the study of theatre. I have taken a few classes and workshops in directing, but I haven’t directed much: Sappho is my second full-length production.

Primarily I studied theatre by seeing a lot of theatre. I worked as a theatre reviewer for several years and would attend, on average, three shows a week. I learned a lot from watching other theatre artists at work, and this year – in my mid-twenties with a bit of life experience – I felt ready to direct my own productions.

6) Your adaptation of ‘Sappho…’ has inspired other artists to create beautiful works after watching the performance – such as Anna Perenna’s poem The Shining Thread – what has been your favourite artwork inspired by your adaptation? 

Oh, Anna Perenna… her name in itself is a poem!

I can’t choose a favourite artwork, but I will reference a couple of others.

A 16-year-old Sappho aficionado from Scotland has written erotic prose inspired by the show. She will be attending the show with her father in Edinburgh next month.

Tamaya Garner, an exceptional artist and sculptor, attended the show three times in Ottawa and made sketches in the dark theatre. From those sketches (posted on our website) she created the most beautiful paintings, two of which were given to me and Victoria as gifts.

We are so lucky.

7) Do you have any projects in the pipeline; what’s next? Do yourself and Grove plan to work together again?

Glad you asked! I’m directing an adaptation of Shakespeare’s As You Like It for The Rose Theatre on Bankside. We produced Sappho there in May, and I was delighted when they invited me back to direct another show.

I would love to work with Victoria again. But if there’s any sense or goodness in the world, West End directors will be fighting over her within the year, and I won’t stand a chance. Still, we’ve talked about remounting Sappho again when the next opportunity arises.

8) Do you have any words of wisdom/advice for anyone aspiring to become a Director/Theatre Maker?

Be smart. Be likeable. Be generous. Be frugal. Be passionate. Value everyone who gives their time and energy to your work.

9) What has been the best part of the process of bringing ‘Sappho in 9 Fragments’ to the stage? What has been your least favourite part?

This. This is the best part. We have a show that we’re proud of, and we have the luxury of changing things as necessary, of playing around with bits of the staging, and having a great time on tour. I also love being at the performances to witness the emotional responses from some people after the show… including the sheer joy of a seven-year-old who has just been told she can play on the structure for a bit.

Least favourite part? Balancing the budget. I hate dealing with money. Though it’s nice to actually be making some.

10) You were quite open about your feelings towards bringing the performance of ‘Sappho…’ back to your hometown (in Ottawa) earlier in the year where your friends and family would be… How did it go?

Yes, I’m always open about my feelings. It’s one of my riskiest qualities.

It went fine. It went more than fine: it was stupendous. We had sold-out audiences for almost every performance. We were awarded ‘Best in Fest’ and we were invited to stay for an extra week. We felt like rock stars.

11) Finally… Are you happy with your adaptation of ‘Sappho in 9 Fragments’?

I am thrilled. Get me some full audiences at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, and I’ll be even happier! Especially since the playwright, the illustrious Jane Montgomery Griffiths, will be in town for the show, and I want her to delight in the experience.

But yes, happiness does not even begin to describe. I would happily tour this show for years and years. Here’s hoping.

‘Sappho in 9 Fragments’ plays at the Edinburgh Fringe 8th – 10th August.

You can find, follow and read more about the performance through these sites:
Twitter: @Sappho9fragment

Or follow Jessica through her website:

SAPPHO EdFringe Press Release

    SAPPHO plays at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe 

Starring London’s “uncommonly exhilarating” (Exeunt Magazine) Victoria Grove

Inline images 1

Following two critically-acclaimed runs in London and a multi-city Canadian tour, SAPPHO …in 9 fragments by Jane Montgomery Griffiths, plays for three nights only at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, August 8, 9, 10 at 19:15 at theSpace Venue 45.

Within a secluded cavern, Ancient Greece’s first love poet laments her erasure from history, while a chorus girl named Atthis is seduced into a modern-day Sapphic romance.

Directed by Jessica Ruano and starring Victoria Grove, this production has garnered compliments from some of Britain’s finest actors, including Simon Callow, who called Grove’s performance “brilliant”, and Maureen Lipman, who proclaimed it was “the best theatrical experience I’ve had since The Book of Mormon”.

In Canada, the show was awarded Best in Fest and Outstanding Design at the Ottawa Fringe Festival and was held over for an extra week in the nation’s capital.

NEWS UPDATE: Jane Montgomery Griffiths – playwright, actor and academic who currently resides in Melbourne, Australia – will be attending the Edinburgh Festival Fringe to see this production of her play for the first time.

★★★★ EXEUNT MAGAZINE          “Uncommonly exhilarating”

★★★★ REMOTE GOAT                    “Magnetic and mysterious, dominating…”

                  “Victoria Grove is extraordinarily talented”

★★★★ VIEWS FROM THE GODS   “A masterclass in acting and aerobics”

                              “Stunningly athletic and entirely sensuous”

★★★★ FEMALE ARTS                      “Written, directed and executed with passion”

Sappho …in 9 fragments plays at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in theSpace Venue 45 on Jeffrey Street, EH1 1DH, August 8, 9, 10 at 19:15. Tickets £12/10 | FB: Sappho…in 9 fragments | TW: @sappho9fragment