As Olympian feats go, Stephen Fry’s attempt to translate his published retellings of Greek myths into a trilogy of solo performances is an epic of story-telling whichever way you look at it. With just a suitably ornate armchair on a stage framed by a backdrop of a starry night sky, this first part sees Fry work his well-travelled avuncular charm before settling in Jackanory-style to regale an audience hanging on his every erudite word.
This sees him move gleefully from Kronos hacking off the genitals of his father Uranus to an expansive comic-strip style soap opera that sees Fry relate assorted grand gestured yarns while also noting historians’ apparent mistranslations of the type of accessory carried by Pandora. He also manages to shoe-horn in references to The Importance of Being Earnest, Morrissey and even The Smurfs by way of a series of silly voices absorbed from several generations of classically savvy humourists.
Accompanied in Tim Carroll’s production by a dazzling array of projections by Nick Bottomley, Fry breaks things up with a showbiz style quiz of sorts. Here, the audience get to play a Trivial Pursuits-like game that allows their host to go off on one tangent or another in a way that fuses the personal with the educational.
First seen at the Shaw Festival in Ontario, Canada, overall this makes for a charmingly user-friendly trip, in which Fry proves himself to be a captivating, charismatic and eminently knowledgeable presence. What he also does without ever labouring the point is to show off the roots of democracy and civilisation as we still just about know it. As the Gods of this first part look set to give way to the Heroes and Men of the next two, Fry fans, historians and lovers of tall tales writ even larger should stay tuned for the next exciting episode.
The Herald, August 20th 2019