Sappho…in 9 fragments, Rose Theatre 27 May


Picture I appropriated from

Picture I appropriated from

This turned out to be a monodrama lasting 65 minutes by Jane Montgomery Griffiths, with the single performer Victoria Grove getting to play I guess four parts.  It started with Sappho in a wooden cage thing with ropes and sheeting beginning the Hymn to Aphrodite with rather Modern Greek pronunciation and leaving out the specific invocation of the god and her attributes.  I feared the worst.

As the thing developed Sappho explained how she had become a thing of gaps, which gaps men had attempted to fill with salacious pedantry, and by making her die for the love of a sweaty public transport worker (Phaon the ferryman).  This was built around sections and phrases from Sappho’s surviving works and other literary sources, including Yeats, the myth from The Symposium, and other sources I probably should have recognised.

Then we got into the affair between Atthis, a young American actress now, and the star who was playing Phaedra (in a play that had apparently gained the most famous line from Medea) and that was very good, especially as Victoria Grove got to play both of them and the star’s daughter as well.  And threw herself about the roped cage, not infrequently hanging upside-down to deliver her lines.

That’s what you need to do of course:  put what you want to say about Sappho and women in the theatre and love into concrete characters and their relationships, not a public lecture.

As for the 9 fragments, using the Voigt numbering I detected at least allusions to Nos 1, 34, 47, 49, 53, 94, 105A, 105B, 110, 111, 120, 130, 145, 137.

What was the reason for the cage and the ropes?  The human female form divine was hardly invisible to the Greeks in the way it was in the Christian era, after all.  Maybe that Sappho turned confinement to her own purposes in the same way that loss of the text became polyvalency.


(See here for what I know of other Greek plays in London.)

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