'What I really want to do is sing'

Issue 

Lee Sappho sings the Blues
Written by Robyn Archer and Lee Sappho with Angela Chaplin
Outer metropolitan Perth tour, August 26-30
South-west WA tour, September 2-6

Review by Anne O'Callaghan

Robyn Archer has returned to Deckchair Theatre for a second production following the highly successful collaboration which produced Ningali and won director Angela Chaplin a Contemporary Performance Award for best director in 1996.

In this production, Lee Sappho gives a dynamic performance as she tells the story of how she finally came to do what she really wanted to do — sing the blues. With a mother who had little time for her and refused to acknowledge her own repressed lesbian feelings and a father who refused to allow conversation at the dinner table, Lee married early to escape, having her son, Matt, after the event.

Her husband turned out to be abusive and it was not until she contacted the Women's Health Service, dominated at the time by lesbian separatists, that she had the courage to leave him behind. As Sappho says, "Thank Christ for the dykes". She pursued counselling and therapeutic massage while having a daughter, Kester, with her partner of seven years. The time came when she was forced to acknowledge that they were in fact both chronic alcoholics.

Taking a long, hard look at her life, Sappho realised that singing the blues was her great love and ambition. Since then she has managed her own band, Lee Sappho and The Body and Fender Band; conducted highly successful "Queen Bee" workshops for women who have always wanted to sing but never got the chance; and run blues-writing workshops for high school students. In 1996, she released her CD, Big Girls Blues, the biggest selling female blues recording in Australia for a long time.

Sappho makes her acting debut with this production. She delivers a performance which is at once both hilarious and moving, telling the story of a difficult childhood and premature passage to adulthood with courage and strength.

The cluttered, retro style of the set fronted by a small garden shows us Sappho's struggle to escape from the oppressive confines of her family and abusive lovers and harvest the seeds of the four-year-old who was moved to tears by the power of song. Since that time, Sappho has developed into a gutsy blues mama and the performance she gives in this show only leaves us hoping she keeps right on singing.