Presenting the concept of elusive poetry from 600BC that holds the meaning ‘literally suspended just from view’ has been taken very seriously by Second Skin Theatre. As I walk into the basement of The White Rabbit Cocktail Club, I’m almost expecting Christian Grey to appear from behind the scaffolding and ropes sat obtusely in the centre of the room. Of course, unlike 50 Shades of Grey, this is a theatrical production written with much more literary integrity and a hell of a lot more class, and in our current bondage obsessed era this will be one suspension show without a hint of sadomasochism.
Sappho… in Nine Fragments is Second Skin’s production of Jane Montgomery Griffiths’ play, and attempts to reclaim the poetry of the Ancient Greek lyric poet, which has been vastly changed and widely interpreted over two millenniums. This version, directed by Jessica Ruano, will see actress Victoria Grove suspend herself from ropes during the performance, as she presents the fractured stories of Sappho and her lover Atthis.
Victoria, “who is the whole show,” conceptualised the suspension herself, and spends the duration of our interview answering questions whilst hanging upside down. I’m told that when they were analysing the slices of Sappho’s poetry layered across this play, she asked if she could somehow be suspended during each performance. “More fool me” laughs Victoria, in possibly the huskiest voice known to woman. Jessica explains that the word suspension is used quite frequently throughout the dialogue, and after speaking to set designer Ana about it, the scaffolding and rope came to being.
“The text it lends itself to the ropes”, adds Jessica, “because there’s a lot of great imagery to it, such as being on the water and in the air. The text almost tells you what to do.”
In this play, the audience will see Victoria delve between the ropes to present a divided self in her depiction of Sappho and Atthis. The nine fragments are split in two, and transition between Atthis and Sappho’s personal monolouge. Sappho’s own fragments are almost self-analysis, with Sappho’s “indignation at the fact that people have been deconstructing and re working her story” forming the foundations of this drama. “People were basically inventing stories about her over the centuries” Jessica informs me, “some of which were completely made up because they wanted to shape her.”
Victoria, who gave a “mesmerising” performance in Second Skins West End show La Chunga, provides a striking, articulate, and of course flexible Sappho. “The thing about a solo show,” Jessica tells me, “is that when you have an excellent performer, and a really cool set piece, it’s kind of all you need.”
This piece of theatre could prove particularly challenging for Victoria, a consequence of Sappho’s intricate use of language. Victoria tells me that: “The poetry itself is so exquisite. But the frustrating thing about learning it, particularly, is that she repeats the same lines over and over again, but in different order, changing one or two words in every different fragment. It’s incredibly difficult to learn.”
Griffiths, who not only wrote the script but performed as Sappho in the play, engaged with Sappho’s poetry by focusing on the gaps in it, and how over the last two millenniums, human compulsion has been to fill those gaps with our own subjectivity. Instead, the Australian playwright chose to take the pieces of dis-joined poetry and focus on them, Victoria says. “In those pieces, Jane has found the beauty of these words, pieced them together and made a story; she’s made a character, and said we can’t impose ourselves upon this woman, and create something for ourselves, deciding who she was. We don’t know.”
“It’s her chance to talk back at them,” Jessica emphasises.
All that remains now for the cast and crew is to find a costume that visually represents our poet Sappho… and doesn’t prove too distracting for the audience when Victoria hangs from slightly more compromising positions.
Sappho.. in Nine Fragments plays from January 16 to January 27 at the White Rabbit Cocktail Club, in Church Street. For tickets, click here.