BWW Review: Stephen Fry's MYTHOS Trilogy at the Shaw Festival is Captivating

BWW Review: Stephen Fry's MYTHOS Trilogy at the Shaw Festival is Captivating

Audiences at the Shaw Festival are in for a treat (or three) for the next month, as Stephen Fry regales them with tales of Greek myth. He has constructed three one man shows, directed by Tim Carroll and based on his book MYTHOS which explores these myths as he has heard them and read about them over the years. His stage trilogy at the Festival Theatre is split into GODS, HEROES, and MEN. Theatregoers can choose to see some or all of these productions. The Shaw Festival indicates that it does not matter if you see the shows in order, but after watching all three, I will say that there is most definitely an established order, and I would argue that audiences who are seeing all three would get the most enjoyment out of the experience if they did watch them in such order (GODS, then HEROES, then MEN). That said, I agree that this is certainly not necessary to appreciate the grand storytelling ability of Mr. Fry.

In each show, Fry captivates the audience with his famous storytelling skills. Each production is more or less Fry sitting in an armchair at centre stage, telling these stories, as music and projections help transport us to the world of ancient Greece. He adds wordplay and his own personal asides about his personal connection to the material, but the heart of the show is his passion for Greek mythology and his ability to share fascinating stories with the audience and to relate them to the world today.

Each show also has an element of 'choose your own adventure' for the audience, wherein they play Mythical Pursuit--a version of Trivial Pursuit and have Mr. Fry speak to something on the spot. With this component, each performance is guaranteed to never be exactly the same. This allows the audience to really feel like they are a part of Mr. Fry's storytelling experience.

Below, I will provide a review of each of the three performances: GODS, HEROES, and MEN...

GODS

The first instalment of the MYTHOS trilogy opens with Fry telling the origin story of the Greek Titans and Gods. The opening of this production does a good job of laying out the groundwork for what we are about to experience-which is why it works well as the first in the trilogy.

The most striking part about this show, especially if it is the first one you see-is how Fry seems to know these stories inside and out. He has fleshed out these characters and formed his own opinions to provide commentary on their actions. His wit and wordplay make even stories that audiences may be familiar with, seem fresh and new. He also has a way of bringing in information that isn't as commonly known about some of the more common stories-for example, I thought I knew the whole story of King Midas and the trouble he got into with the Greek Gods, but I ony knew half of it!

During intermission, I commented to my viewing partner that I was getting more entertainment out of Fry telling me these stories than I would if the stories were actually being played out on stage.

HEROES

I was curious to see what Fry did for the second installment of his trilogy, and how it differs from the first. It feels very much like a continuation from the stories he had been telling the night before, but it would absolutely work as a stand-alone show as well. Fry provides enough of a summary about the creation of the Gods and Prometheus' creation of humans, that no one would feel lost if they had not seen his performance of GODS.

Like in GODS, this production utilizes music by Paul Sportelli and projections designed by Nick Bottomley to help tell stories. There are also some fun special effects in this particular show that work very well with the stories that Fry is telling.

This show focuses on some of the famed heroes of ancient Greece-specifically Perseus and Heracles (often known as Hercules). Fry's ability to do various voices comes in handy here, as he portrays the different characters that each hero runs into while completing their 'feats'. At one point, he unintentionally switched two of the accents and then called himself on it. Another time, he commented on how one of the voices he was doing resembled that of Michael Cane, and then continued to do a spot on Michael Cane impression as that character. This seemed off the cuff and it would be interesting to see if it happened again. Regardless, his approach certainly makes the audience feel like the specific experience they are getting will never be completely replicated.

MEN

The final instalment of the trilogy is MEN. At times, it is unclear why the characters focused on in this show are not considered heroes, but it becomes more evident as the stories go along. Whereas Heracles and Perseus are widely known as heroes (even though Heracles did some pretty dark things), characters like Paris and Achilles may be the hero in their own stories, but the villain in someone else's.

More so than the other two productions, this one jumps around a bit. It opens with Fry telling us of a man washed up on the shore and it is not until later in the show, after we have already learned about Paris and Achilles, that we come back to this man and confirm that he is Odysseus. This strategy he takes serves a couple of purposes. It allows him to effectively weave the three main stories he is telling together, and it also lets the audience try to guess the direction he is going. This is clever because these stories, particularly those of Achilles and Odysseus are probably among the more widely known ones. Fry knows this, and manages to still find a way to keep his audience guessing. Fry's understanding of the fact that the most of the audience will already know some of these stories quite well, is on display when he alludes to the story of the Trojan Horse, but doesn't bother regurgitating it. He trusts that the audience already knows what happens and this allows him to focus more on the events right before and right after the arrival of a wooden horse in Troy.

Each production is enjoyable, and they all work well together, but if you plan to only see one, my suggestion would be to see GODS. What is interesting, is that Fry points out during one of his 'mythical pursuit' sessions that the stories and the characters become more dynamic and three dimensional as we move from the Titans to the Gods to the humans. The stories of the HEROES and MEN do indeed have a little more depth and nuance to them than the stories of the GODS, so I do see what Fry means here. Fry accounts for this lack of nuance in the stories of the GODS by adding some of his own. His cleverness and wit truly shine through when he does this and I think this is why GODS is the production that stands out to me. That said, I also wouldn't be surprised if it stands out because it was the first one I saw, so I would be interested in chatting with someone who saw them in a different order.

At the end of the day, you can't go wrong no matter which of these productions that you see....And if you can, I highly recommend seeing them all. Not only will you have the opportunity to see one of the world's greatest storytellers in action, but you will also legitimately learn something!

Each play in the MYTHOS Trilogy continues in repertory at the Shaw Festival Theatre until July 15th.

Photo Credit: David Cooper

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