Written by and starring Stephen Fry
Originally produced by The Shaw Festival
The Lowry, Salford Quays; 2hr 20min
Also: Mythos: Heroes, 31 August 2019, 2pm; Mythos: Men, 31 August 2019, 7.30pm
Plays Liverpool Philharmonic Hall 4-6 September 2019
I first read tales from Greek mythology in a venerable encyclopedia of my father’s. Written with a sturdy dose of Victorian prudery, it certainly had no mention of Kronos scything off his father’s manhood, nor a detailed description of the spreading of his “man-custard” across the world to begat nymphs and dryads.
Stephen Fry has no such qualms. His telling of the creation of the cosmos according to the ancient Greeks is notable for its vomited offspring, split skulls (more offspring) and frankly cavalier opening up of sides, thighs and bellies for a startling range of purposes, including more offspring.
Mythos: A Trilogy began life in book form (with the third volume still to be published), then took to the stage at the Edinburgh Festival and is now a UK tour, which began last night at The Lowry.
Not content with a single show, Fry brings three across two evenings and the intervening matinee – a jaw-dropping tour de force. Insert your own marathon joke here.
Directed by Tim Carroll, Gods introduces the first deities (“There’s quite a lot of rather necessary incest, I’m afraid”), while Heroes tells of monster-slayings, battles and general derring-do and Men relates the founding of Troy, the troublesome Helen, and Odysseus’ Excellent Adventure.
The stage is set with no more than a big leather chair and back projection. Fry did not seem particularly comfortable in the chair, but the storytelling is all the more effective for being told from it.
Mythos, he tells us, is Greek for story, and he is a glorious storyteller. His erudition is worn lightly, neither patronising nor exclusive. The style is clear, the jokes good and the tone definitely 21st century (though those waiting for a Hermes delivery joke will remain disappointed). The diversions, the little self-deprecating asides, the wistful regret for lost firesides and hearths as the centre of families and communities, all kept us spellbound.
His affection for these riotous gods and goddesses is palpable and infectious – ladies of a certain age can absolutely relate to the description of Hera as a "better-looking cross between Lady Bracknell and Bertie Wooster’s Aunt Agatha".
In fact there is so much warmth between stage and auditorium that audience participation sections – choosing a couple of the tales, emailing questions to the Oracle at Delphi during the interval – felt rather clunky. The best joke from the questions (naming his favourite hero, which I won’t spoil here) could easily have been introduced into the main run of the show.
And no, the Oracle sheds no light on the mystery that is Brexit…