Writer: Stephen Fry
Director: Tim Carroll
Reviewer: Jay Nuttall
Revered by some as having almost demi-God like status anyway, Stephen Fry has always immersed himself into the world of Greek myth and legend. His 2018 publication Mythos: Godsis his own retelling of the ancient Mediterranean fables for a 21stcentury audience. Quickly followed by Heroesand Men, his literally trilogy is now briefly touring as a live storytelling experience. Gods, Fry tells us, is not meant to be a classics lesson, rather a dance with words.
With brown Chesterfield armchair centre stage that Fry rarely moves from this is not a ‘show’, nor a play, nor a spectacle. It is, he informs us, something much more ancient. Storytelling has been with us since the birth of language and stories of the Gods who shaped the world have always been at the heart – whatever culture. For those who enjoyed Fry’s interjections as host of BBC2’s QIwith something ‘quite interesting’ it is a feast. But more than the non-verbal notes of interest at the derivation and etymology of language from ancient Greek or Latin, Fry weaves thousands of years of story into two hours of fireside, late evening traditional storytelling.
He begins at the beginning. The big bang for us in modern times but chaos(something similar) for the ancient Greeks. Rather than a burst of stars in the sky Fry floods us with names of Gods born mostly from one another as names familiar today begin to weave into the fabric of his narrative. The first Gods, Kronos and Giai, may be less recognisable, but by the time Fry begins to recount the tales of the pantheon of Olympian Gods the names become a little more recognisable – Zeus, Poseidon, Hades, Aphrodite, Athena, Apollo and Hermes to name drop just a few. And although we think we know a little about them Fry mines his mind and scratches the surface of a few. It is this pleasure, this teaching, from one to another that is the satisfaction of this event as well as the everyday connection us mortals have with the greater beings.
Of course Fry cannot fit the entire mythology into one show, nor can he hope to condense his book entirely. He therefore adopts a more random element into the evening as he occasionally allows a member of the audience to pick what the next story may be. It is necessary to allow keep the show in a digestible format and has the added bonus of pricking an inquisitive mind so learn more about the stories not told – perhaps by buying one of the signed copies in the foyer.
Director Tim Carroll has brought a touch of theatricality to the storytelling. Projection behind Fry transports us from the cosmos to ancient Greek statues, with the occasional Renaissance painting to depict the tale being told, (and to illustrate its almost timeless nature). Subtle lighting shifts move us from the stars to the underworld or from the fireside to open fields. But all this is added extra as Fry would capture our imaginations easily on a bare stage with his wit.
It is an evening of fusing together both the high and the low. What many consider to be classical, or above their station with names (as Fry asserts) that sound more like diseases than Gods, is brought forth by Fry as palatable and entertainment. However, one such story, the Promethean tale, seemed to sit a little uneasy. Prometheus stole fire from the God Zeus to give to the new playthings of the world – mankind. It was an ignition not just of flame but of inspiration to us mere mortals. With very high ticket prices for Fry’s show it is difficult not to see beyond the irony of this retelling. That said, this is a wonderful couple of hours in Fry’s presence. Whether a novice or a classical expert Fry has you enwrapped. It feels like you have slipped on your cosiest slippers and are settled into the Chesterfield armchair with Fry himself.
Reviewed 30 Sept 2019 | Image: David Cooper