Greek poet Sappho is one of history’s most documented lesbians. Indeed the word lesbian comes from the Greek island of Lesbos, where Sappho was born.

But while academics debate whether or not her poems are in fact sexual, prolific Australian playwright Wendy Beckett assumes that they most definitely are.

The play is set in an alternative history, circa 600BC, on the island of Lesbos. It follows Sappho, played convincingly by Georgie Fellows, who must choose between following her heart and embarking on a relationship with a woman or obeying her ‘radical’ parents who want her to marry an aristocrat.

Pittacus and Cleis, played by Fanos Xenofos and Jumoké Fashola respectively, want Sappho to marry into high society to bring about ‘necessary changes from within’.

Playwright Beckett sticks to Sappho’s roots by employing a Greek chorus - a group of five actors who do not leave the stage for the entire duration of the show. And keep in mind there’s no interval. Aaron Bladen, Andrew Franklin, Roann Hassani McCloskey, Lucy Mackay and Kostas Tekkis are a delight to watch. I dare you to find a moment when they aren't reacting to the action unfolding on stage.

Flamboyant narrator and rising star Emmanuel Akwafo brings a modern touch to the ancient tale as he prances about the stage and offers sassy commentary. His jokes bring Sappho’s troubles into the present day where they couldn’t ring more true.

Aphrodite, played by Velile Tshabalala, acts as Sappho’s muse, preaching polyamory in a stunning orange and gold cape. Tshabalala brings the goddess of love to life and is complimented by Aidan Banyard's performance as Hephaestus. The pair’s chemistry carries through to their mirroring roles as the snobbish aristocratic parents of Sappho’s husband-to-be Hercules.

Eleanor Kane also switches seamlessly between her role as Hercules and Adore - Sappho’s fae-like lover who seduces her through dance.

Although Beckett claims she used the classic structure of a Greek tragedy, there is not a sad ending in sight as rainbow confetti rains down on the cast in the final moments of the show.

While some queer references could benefit from more subtlety, for example the recurring use of rainbow lighting which is rather on the nose, Sappho generally explores sexuality in a tasteful manner. One moment is particularly striking when mesh fabric is used to replicate bed sheets and you catch glimpses of the bodies writhing beneath it.

Sappho runs at the Southwark Playhouse Elephant from 3rd to 25th May. It is 85 minutes long without an interval.

Photo credit: Mark Senior