There is a sense that 'Sappho… in 9 fragments' has been a real
passion project; it is written by and stars Jane Montgomery
Griffiths. She also makes up the entire cast. Helen Eastman directs
(Agamemnon,The Cure at Troy,Bridgetower).
Griffiths is crumpled on the stage as we file in to take our
seats. Pre curtain chat hangs in the air 'Jackie Kay… module… Carol
Ann Duffy', certainly in the right place then.
Nine full-length mirrors and nine light bulbs make up the stage
- a dressing room with our Greek poet waiting in the wings.
Griffith skirts from character to character, Ancient Greek Sappho
one moment, a modern woman navigating an affair the next. Several
history lessons and a brief lecture on Sappho's critical legacy
unfurl en route.
Griffiths is at her most engaging when she's juggling roles and
voices with Ripley-like talent. She condescends, flirts and
flatters herself - at once embodying the baritone, sensual,
experienced older woman and the giggling, high-pitched innocence of
'Atis'. Even braving a one-woman sex scene.
The 'fragments' where Griffiths is teacher, chalk in hand, or
Sappho herself, musing in Greek, don't seem to work as well.
Perhaps because she is so weary of projecting her own fantasies
onto Sappho, as she repeatedly tells us male scholars have done for
centuries. But the play cannot help being another version of
Sappho. So watching it you feel conflicted as Griffith rubbishes
Sappho critics. (Sappho 'expert' Jeannette Winterson is
labeled a 'purveyor of overpriced root vegetables').
But as the twin stories of the two women come together, or fall
apart, it starts to work. 'Sappho… in 9 fragments' raises questions
about acting, playing a 'part' but never achieving the 'whole'. As
the stage descends into disarray, together Eastman and Griffiths go
some way in charting the disintegration of Sappho - the original
Sappho...in 9 Fragments was performed on 17-18 July at Greenwich Theatre. See
YouTube clip of Jane Montgomery Griffiths, below