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Mythos: A Trilogy review at Festival Theatre, Ontario – ‘Stephen Fry is captivating’

Stephen Fry in Mythos: A Trilogy - Gods. Heroes. Men at Shaw Festival. Photo: David Cooper.
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When Shakespeare’s Globe alumnus Tim Carroll was hired to run Canada’s Shaw Festival, it may have been with the unspoken understanding that he’d call on some famous colleagues to bring star power to its box office.

So far that has translated into the presence of Stephen Fry, the Malvolio in Carroll’s hit 2012 Globe production of Twelfth Night – first, via last season’s festival revival of the Fry-revised musical Me and My Girl, and now with the man himself.

Fry’s one-man trilogy Mythos, having its world premiere at the Shaw, is a feast for Fry fanatics. Over the course of its three separate parts – each a full-length show – the actor-author gives free rein to his gift for fluent, funny storytelling as he romps over the fertile field of ancient Greek mythology. He is, as we’d fully expect, chatty, witty, warm and, indeed, jovial – or, as he might note in passing: jovial, derived from Jove, also Jupiter, the Roman name of Zeus. Yes, he’s effortlessly erudite, too.

The Mythos shows are adapted from his recent book of the same title but also allow for extemporaneous musings, including the occasional personal anecdote. In the first part, Gods, he takes us from Chaos through the Titans to the origins of the Olympic pantheon. Part II, Heroes, recounts the exploits of Perseus, Heracles and Theseus. In the last and most profound instalment, Men, he goes Homeric with stories of the Trojan War and Odysseus’s long detour back home.

The tales are retold faithfully but colloquially, with plenty of comic embellishment. Hera, the formidable queen of the gods, is portrayed as a Lady Bracknell type, the ever-labouring Heracles as a lugubrious Liverpudlian. And Fry has great fun mimicking Kronos as he vomits up his swallowed children. But later he gives us moving moments, too: Theseus encountering an anguished and pitiful Minotaur, Odysseus reuniting with Penelope.

Now and again he pauses the narrative to indulge in the kind of gentle audience participation favoured by director Carroll, including a game of Mythical Pursuit (we pick the categories, Fry supplies the trivia) and a chance to consult the Oracle of DelFry.

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When not enthroned in a magical wing chair that can both rise to the firmament and descend into the Underworld, Fry ranges across a set by Douglas Paraschuk encircled with parchment-like banners. Upon these Nick Bottomley projects a stream of images, from great myth-inspired art to Hellenic maps and landscapes, as well as a modest sprinkling of animation. There is dramatic lighting by Kevin Lamotte, a graceful score by Paul Sportelli and a few amusing props and special effects.

But mostly there is the always-captivating Fry, not only displaying an encyclopedic knowledge of the myths but also reinforcing their relevance to our present times, whether he’s considering the Promethean creation of artificial intelligence or simply relishing the tabloid-worthy human foibles with which the Greeks endowed their gods. His is an Olympian feat of storytelling well worth a pilgrimage to the Shaw Festival.

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Stephen Fry’s solo trilogy offers a wise, witty romp through Greek mythology