STAGE REVIEW: Stephen Fry – Mythos Trilogy @ Sage Gateshead (20-23.09.19) | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Gods. Heroes. Men. Stephen Fry’s collective trilogy of mythological plays offers that rare thing…storytelling. Storytelling without the billion dollar budget and the CGI, without the fluff and the frenzy, without autocue. They are intimate, they are yours and they are mine just as much as they belong to the speaker and indeed the ages. There’s no fabricated spectacle here, just the magic of words and an eloquent tongue kneading them to life. 

As the rapturous applause dies down following Fry’s entrance, the audience are immediately transported to a metaphorical camp fire somewhere on a distant, Grecian mountainside. Now, all there is to do, Fry calmly states, is relax and listen. The art of storytelling, he suggests, and the enjoyment of its fruits, is something that is innate in all of us, and as shoulders all around me in the Sage Gateshead relax and silence falls, I know this to be true. Fry settles into his armchair and away we go… 

In his first instalment, Gods, we start at the very beginning, prior to what we now call The Big Bang, in Chaos. From here on in, Fry takes us on a whistle-stop tour of the early Ancient Greek Gods and their evolution. Witty tales of ethereal turmoil, vengeance, incest, power and love pour out of Fry’s learned mouth and wash over the audience. The centre piece of this show is the eternally promiscuous Zeus and the assemblance of his fellow Olympian Gods. Coloured with hilarious accents (the Brummie Heracles would turn out to be a particular highlight in the following account of Heroes), modern day reflections and the etymological origin of all, Fry breathes new life into these myths and dare I say, even new meaning. 

With our appetite whetted for more mythical marvels, next up are the Heroes. Here we see Fry charmingly describe the declining prevalence of the Gods and the consequential rise of the half mortal Demi-Gods. Cue the life and adventures of the rather dimwitted but ethereally gifted Perseus and the trials of the immensely powerful, but flawed Heracles. If Gods represented the well placed foundations of this trilogy, Heroes, and indeed Men, would go on to provide the action. Perseus’ dealings with the witch-like Graeae, and Heracles’ descent into hell are particular highlights. This is one blockbuster sequel that doesn’t fail to live up to expectation and the same can be said for our final instalment, Men.

One could be forgiven for thinking that of three mythological shows, the chapter based purely on Man and the mortal realm might be the least engaging of the three. You’d be wrong, of course. Here we find ourselves in the company of Hector, Paris, Achilles and Helen; this is Troy at the time of the Trojan Wars. Fry’s depictions and descriptions of the bravery and sacrifice running through the conflict keep us enthralled until the bloody end…and the end is in sight. Appropriately, our trilogy draws to a close as we accompany Odysseus on his long journey back from the Wars. It’s a harrowing adventure that’d make the best of us wish we’d remained on the siege lines of Troy, but not clever Odysseus. Surviving encounters with cyclopes, sirens, whirlpools, a sorceress and a sea Nymph, we (and he) eventually arrive home. It’s a bittersweet return to the present but one can’t help but feel privileged to have accompanied these Gods, Heroes and Men on their respective journeys.

This has been a unique theatrical experience. It’s storytelling on the grandest of scales, yet Fry manages to maintain all the intimacy and escapism required of such an art form. It doesn’t matter how well you know these myths or whether you’re an expert or a newcomer, there’s something here for everyone. There’s even the opportunity to put a question to Fry, thanks to his interval-based submission device The Oracle, a process that always bore out fascinating digressions and proved an amusing accompaniment to the piece. 

An educational, etymological and mythical delight.

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