Stephen Fry: Mythos – A Trilogy: Gods, Heroes, MenLiverpool Philharmonic 4/9/19
There is a sea of people pouring through the doors of the Philharmonic on this dreary Wednesday evening. People whose lives have all featured trials, struggles, celebrations and defeats, all of which have been woven into the fabric of their personal narratives and have made them all the more human. With the world being as strange as it currently is, there is much that can distract us and detach us from each other and the wider world. At this time the ancient art of storytelling has never been more significant. It is a tool that, for aeons, has persisted in bringing humanity together to help us restore our collective focus, our faith. So, who better to offer that service to the people of Liverpool this week than the inimitable STEPHEN FRY, with his three-day Greek trilogy MYTHOS. Our journey starts tonight, in a full to the brim auditorium, with GODS.
Ever the humble and unassuming gentleman, Fry walks briskly out on stage to huge applause. He play-acts bashfulness, quieting the crowd with open palms and cries of “Oh, stop it. Stop it.” He then walks us through our role as his audience throughout the oncoming stories: to sit as though we’re gathered around a fire and revel in the narratives. The backdrop of the stage is adorned with columns of projection screens by which the stories will be illustrated and the room transformed with fitting ambience. It currently displays a panorama of stars and nebulae as a beautiful blank canvas for the cosmic stories of creation. Aside from the projection screens there are only two things on the stage; a dark leather, high-backed chair and Fry himself. And so, after brief introductions and a pleasant anecdote about his meeting with Paul McCartney and his induction into LIPA some weeks past, we’re off.
It all starts with Chaos. The word refers to, according to the Greeks, the origin of everything at the beginning of time; a chasm from which everything in existence was born. And from there, Fry’s rich, sage voice carries us through the annals of history, from the birth of the first Titan, Kronos, born of Uranus (the sky) and Gaia (the Earth), all the way to the birth of the Gods. Following the war between Gods and Titans we witness the 12 Gods take their place on Olympus and meet many very telling characters, such as Persephone, the Titan Prometheus – who gave Man fire – and Pandora, who disobediently opened her jar and let out many evils but unknowingly shut it before letting out the one remaining being: Elpis, the Greek personification of the spirit of Hope.
We leave Gods after Zeus’ whimsical creation of Man, as he punishes Prometheus for introducing Man to fire by shackling him at the top of a mountain and leaving him to be gored by an eagle for all eternity. Fire being the epitome of illumination and enlightenment, Man now had power. Spellbinding and enthralling, night one of three conquers us all.
On night two, HEROES brings faces familiar and unfamiliar back into the world of Greek myth for another two hours of rapt storytelling. As Stephen settles into his chair once again, we hear now the stories of the famous Heracles, Perseus, Medusa and the Gorgons all the way through to Theseus of Athens. Along the way, Stephen offers fascinating factoids that emphasise just how much our current culture and language owes to the Greeks. Under his charm another audience enjoys a mesmerising canon of tales.
As a bookend to the working week and the series of shows, Friday night arrives and show three begins. Tonight’s tales tell the earliest adventures of MAN; of Odysseus, Troy and Helen, with Polyphemus the Cyclops, Achilles and a host of other characters. We travel to the underworld to the river Styx and follow in the wake of Odysseus’ ship as he quests for his home of Ithaca. Throughout the stories Fry humorously voices each character with different regional accents. This doesn’t detract from the narrative, but does add some sweet brevity to the proceedings. Favourites have included the Brummie Heracles, the Alan Bennett-esque Perseus and the two or three characters lent a voice by Michael Caine. It is, again, a warm, intimate, beguiling evening.
As Odysseus arrives back at Ithaca and reunites with his family, so the final show draws to a close. And with Odysseus’ homecoming, symbolically, as Fry puts it “Mankind came home”. At the shows end, now standing, he leaves with a touching epilogue on humanity’s greater attributes. Our capacity for love, our strength and character, community, understanding and bravery. The ending of these tales depicts humanity’s grasp of independence from the Gods. Yet all of the Gods and their characteristics, be they noble or vicious, live on in us all.
Fry bows out each night to a much-deserved standing ovation. These stories captured the hearts and minds of everyone in attendance and introduced some much-needed focus to the insanity and pace of the outside world. Stephen Fry is, whether he likes it or not, one of our greatest national treasures.