Lessons from ancient lore

Few could pull it off. Stephen Fry’s one-man performance in Mythos at the Shaw Festival is beyond entertaining, it is spell-binding. In this world premiere of a trilogy based on his book Mythos: The Greek Myths Retold, published last year, we saw Heroes. The other two offerings are Gods and Men.

Alone on the stage, sitting in an arm chair, speaking without notes for two hours, Fry manages – for the most part – to keep the audience’s rapt attention. In the opening half-hour when Fry demonstrated his encyclopedic knowledge of Greek myths, I have to admit I got a bit of a brain cramp trying to follow the dozens of names of gods and goddesses, their progeny and their relationships to each other. The second half, when he was thoroughly into storytelling about Odysseus making his years-long voyage home to Ithaca, was far better.

Fry is best known for his comic roles such as Jeeves, the valet in Jeeves and Wooster, with Hugh Laurie as the hapless Bertie Wooster. Fry is also a novelist and the voice of the audiobooks in the Harry Potter series. In Niagara-on-the-Lake he made abundantly clear why Greek myths have inspired so many authors and artists over the centuries as he spoke about the wanderings of Odysseus and his encounters with Circe, Cyclops and Calypso. It’s because the topics represent such eternal verities: triumph and tragedy, humour and hubris, life and love.

To my mind, the onstage jim-crackery that include a game show parody and shouted responses from the audience, didn’t help. But they did not get in the way of the message: The Greek myths are not dead. Concluded Fry, “The gods are still with us.” During the performance, we could not help but believe him.

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