At the opening of his Mythos trilogy, Stephen Fry welcomes the audience and informs us that what we are about to watch is not a play, it’s not a show, it’s something much older – it’s the ancient art of storytelling.
Of course, in 2019 there are a few digital touches – eight large screens at the back of the stage give our imaginations a helping hand with changing imagery taking us on a journey from Mount Olympus, through the constellations to the shores of Crete. There is also effective use of sound and lighting. But, in essence this is one man, Fry, seated centre-stage, on a large Jackanory-style, leather arm-chair, regaling us with tales of ancient Greece.
There is a familiarity in hearing tales that have been told and retold over thousands of years. Fry reawakens us to their richness, bringing their action, adventure and fantasy to life with awesome vocal dexterity and light, relatable humour. Fry is a brilliant mimic, populating Greek mythology with a plethora of British accents as well as a scattering of popular references with characters taking on familiar voices such as, Obi Wan Kenobi, Michael Caine and Prince Charles.
The three shows are based on his recent books, Mythos and Heroes (he tells us he’s busy writing the third). From the audience response it is clear that many have opted to see all three performances. And at two-and-a-half hours each, this trilogy is an immersive experience a bit akin to a box-set binge.
In the first, Mythos: Gods Fry introduces us to Greek Gods – Zeus, Hera, Apollo, Athena, Hermes and the other eight (yes – we meet them all). Here he also sets out the format for the following two performances where, to break up the story there is interaction with the audience, who are invited to email their questions to consult the oracle, as well as game-show style Mythical Pursuit providing direction for the next story. Still amazingly slick, these interludes give us a more personal glimpse of Fry, who til now hadn’t performed a live stage show in almost 40 years. Who would have guessed that such a master storyteller would find his tongue-twisted when reading Harry Potter, tripping on the phrase, ‘Harry pocketed it’ – which he tells us J.K. Rowling insisted on him reading in the audio books as written and delighted in challenging him by adding the same phrase to her later books.
There are familiar tales of Midas and Pandora, who we learn had a jar and not a box – the box came from the Roman’s Latin translation.
‘Heroes’ also throws us at first with reference to the Greek, Heracles instead of the more familiar Roman translation, Hercules. It is also here that we meet the petrifying Medusa.
It takes some concentration to listen and keep track of the myriad of different characters. How Fry manages to keep this all in his head and deliver it so flawlessly is a wonder in itself. It is a marathon of storytelling.
The final instalment, ‘Men’ takes us through the Trojan War and introduces us to Agamemnon, Menelaus, Achilles and Odysseus. By now our heads may be spinning but Fry never loses his audience, he warms us around his hearth of epic storytelling and captures us with his enthusiasm, leaving the stage with a well-deserved ovation.★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Mythos: A Trilogy – Gods. Heroes. Men was at The Lowry, Salford Quays on 30 and 31 August 2019.