Review: Stephen Fry – Mythos at the Festival Theatre

Perched on his winged armchair like a kindly Jackanory presenter, Stephen Fry asks: “when did it all start?” What he means, is when did we start telling stories? Always, of course, around the campfire, but only since the time of the ancient Greeks have stories taken wing as myths, and become what Joseph Campbell called “public dreams” and Jung deemed our collective unconscious.

Fry’s one-man, three-part gallop through some of the greatest stories ever told is at the very least a remarkable feat of memory and learning, and at its best reminds that the theatre itself can be the hearth or the fire around which we gather.

‘Heroes’ and ‘Men’, the second and third part of each stand-alone segment of Mythos, concentrate on what are perhaps the better-known tales such as the exploits of Heracles and the Trojan War, but ‘Gods’ takes us back to the very beginning. Here we find Gaia, the earth, and Uranus, the sky, and their moody teenage son Kronos who is about to geld his dad and then swallow his own children.

Although the evening never quite escapes its static, one-man show confines, and feels a lot like a lecture by the wildly enthusiastic, avuncular classics teacher you never had, Fry does have a gift of bringing these stories alive as he explains how the pantheon of the gods was established. There is some frankly quite appalling behaviour with patricide, squabbling, rape and revenge, reminding that the gods are no better than they should be.  

It’s a long evening and a big space to be held by a single individual, and inevitably there are dips in energy and some sections are more engaging than others. But Fry is often at his best and most personable in the digressions and sections involving audience interaction, including a post-interval session when he answers audience questions like the oracle. Or when he gives individual gods real personality. He plays Hera, Zeus’ wife, as a cross between Bertie Wooster’s Aunt Agatha and Lady Bracknell.

There are stories that are familiar, such as that of King Midas, but which bear telling again, and lesser known facts too: Pandora definitely had a jar, not a box, the latter was a translating error. But most of all, this is a celebration of the art of storytelling itself and the fact that stories are the way we make sense of the world, and create meaning out of the chaos.

Mythos, Festival Theatre, 20-25 Aug, 7.30pm

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