Jane Montgomery Griffiths
Directed by Jessica Ruano
Pros: A five star execution by actress Victoria Grove, who performs with both vigour and grace.
Cons: Difficult to follow without any background knowledge. You quickly find yourself playing catch-up as you try and dissect each scene.
Our Verdict: An enchanting and apt venue, with the play set in the archaeological ruins of The Rose Theatre. To truly enjoy and understand the play, some reading about the life of the ancient Greek poet Sappho is advisable.
Where else to stage a play about an ancient Greek poet named Sappho than The Rose Theatre, Bankside
. Well, I use the word “theatre” loosely. It was once, back in 1587. Now it is an active archaeological site which needs further funding to dig the site fully. It is a fascinating backdrop as the small stage sits above the ruins on a viewing platform. The backlighting of the ruins gives an eerie feel to the place. It is such a quiet venue that you can only hear the dripping of water at times, as it seeps out from the unearthed rocks under the audience.
What strikes you about the stage is its simplicity. There are only a handful of scaffolding poles lashed together, with a couple of white bedsheets thrown over them. Hanging between the poles are ropes, and hanging on the ropes is Sappho. She does not immediately reveal herself to the audience though, relying on the lighting creating shadows for us to watch for the first part of the performance. There is some ancient Greek recited as well, and you do wonder if the whole play will continue in this vein. Soon enough though, Sappho does reveal herself and she, like her performance, is quite stunning.
If you do not know who Sappho is, then a quick history lesson follows. She was born in Lesbos circa 600 BC and was a prolific writer and poet. She liked women. Her works were burned because they were a little “racy” for the times, when discovered in 1073. Fragments of her works were then rediscovered in 1897 in Egypt. This is all that remains: fragments of sentences and words, which make up the dialogue for Jane Montgomery Griffiths’ play.
Victoria Grove flits between the sensual Sappho and the more narrative character of Atthis. It is a majestic performance as she breathes new life into an old life. Victoria Grove’s performance is a cross between US actress Kathleen Turner, with her smoky voice, and Olympic gymnast Beth Tweddle. Her strong thighs grip the ropes as she swings from the scaffolding poles, as if she was born for the part.
It is a real treat being allowed into The Rose Theatre to watch this sort of performance. Would a venue without the background of ancient ruins and the smell of history in the air, have the same impact? Perhaps not. Just as long as the play has Victoria Grove as Sappho though, it has a fighting chance of success. She is one to look out for in the future. The play runs for about an hour which is just enough. You do start to get fidgety towards the end. Perhaps this is a play best enjoyed by those who already have an understanding of Sappho and her life? For this reason the play is awarded three stars, but Victoria Groves compelling performance, certainly deserves five stars.
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SAPPHO…in 9 fragments, runs at The Rose Theatre, Bankside until 2nd June 2013.
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