Review: MYTHOS A Trilogy: GODS. HEROES. MEN (at the Shaw Festival)

by Lynn on June 17, 2018

in The Passionate Playgoer





At the Festival Theatre, Shaw Festival, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont.

Written and “performed” by Stephen Fry

Based on the book by Stephen Fry

Directed by Tim Carroll

Designed by Douglas Paraschuk

Lighting by Kevin Lamotte

Projections by Nick Bottomley

Original music by Paul Sportelli

 Stephen Fry discourses on Greek Myths in this bloated, self-indulgent vanity production that is really a very expensive audio book.

 The Story. Celebrity raconteur, writer, Stephen Fry has divided his presentation of his book Mythos into three sections: Gods, Heroes, Men, with each section having its own performance. I’m going to review all of them together even though I saw them separately.

Gods. Fry goes into great detail explaining how the heavens and the earth came into being with the spirit/deity overseeing it all, how they mated and had children, some hideous with many arms and hands, and how eventually the twelve gods were born. He talks about their names both in Greek as well as the Roman version, although the Romans didn’t look on the Gods with as much reverence or respect as the ancient Greeks. He talks about the mighty Zeus and his prodigious need to impregnate any woman he sees, and was rather inventive and successful at it. He details the other Gods and their idiosyncrasies, what their domains were (Poseidon for example was the God of the oceans etc.), how they interacted with each other and mortals, their personalities,

 Heroes. There is Heracles who if you say the name fast comes out Hercules and his many labours that he has to perform. There is a projection of 10 doors on the stage each noted with a Roman Numeral (Fry made a nice joke about it being a “Roman” numeral). Stephen Fry asks a person from the audience to pick a numbered door and then Mr. Fry discourses in great detail about the task behind that door. He says he only has time to talk about one of the tasks but he does manage to sneak in a lot more doors and what tasks hides behind it.

Thesius was the greatest Athenian hero, and I can assure you that the story on him is more than one sentence.

 Men. Odysseus, Paris, Agamemnon, the Trojan War, and Odysseus’ long, long, ditto trip home.

 The Production. The panels for The Magician’s Nephew (Douglas Paraschuk) are used to project the sky, the stars and various pieces of art that depict the Gods and Heroes etc. In a cloud of smoke and some incidental music (Paul Sportelli) Stephen Fry rises up from the trap to appear smiling and jovial in a comfortable arm chair. He is casually dressed in a jacket, shirt and pants. One notes there is not a glass of water or a jug of water or anything for liquid refreshment. This man goes full tilt without outside liquid aids. Mighty impressive.

From time to time Fry rises from the comfy chair (carefully doing up the buttons of his jacket, to look at the art projected on the panels that refers to a god or hero or man in the story. Almost by surprise is a musical cue and six new panels appear in a different colour: lemon, lime, orange, grape, strawberry etc. This is the beginning to a little game called “Mythical Pursuit” based on “Trivial Pursuit” that used colour coding in its questions. This was an idea of Tim Carroll, the director.  At the top of each panel is something written in Greek. The audience is asked to call out a colour. Mr. Fry then discourses on what the Greek means and the minutiae of how it pertains to the myths. When he finishes he undoes the buttons of his jacket and sits down. I loved that courtliness of buttoning his jacket when he rose to face the audience and unbuttoned the jacket when he sat.

Also we were instructed that if we had a question about the show or the gods or any myths we were to e-mail an address during intermission with our question and the Oracle of delFRY (ugh) would answer it. Just before intermission his chair lowered into the trap. Sure enough after intermission Mr. Fry rose up again and read the question he selected from the e-mails and answered the question, minute in detail and done with a smile.

Stephen Fry is articulate, erudite, mellifluous and just so buoyant in the storytelling (myths means ‘stories’.) He paints a detailed, full picture of who these Gods, Heroes and Men were, their relatives, their friends, the name of the castles and islands where they lived and the names of the pets.

He is so deeply intrigued by these Myths that watching him, mesmerizing at first, telling them is like watching a spider delicately weaving its intricate, artful web. The skill is unmistakable. We lean in closer listening, trying to keep all the names straight—he tells us not to worry about that, that’s his job. Then we realize that we are stuck in the web, it’s a glop. We can’t move or know how this Hero is related to whoever and where are we in the story, and after a while it’s just pretentious information overload.

From what I can tell Tim Carroll’s directorial offerings consisted of when the projections should appear on the panels and when the incidental music should play to begin “Mythical Pursuit”. The rest is left to Mr. Fry.

Comment.  Mythos A Trilogy: Gods. Heroes. Men is really ONE two-hour show  that is bloated into three separate performances of two and a half hours each. What is this but a simple live performance of an audio book and why is it at the Shaw Festival?

Apparently Stephen Fry told Tim Carroll that he wanted to present the Greek Myths for a modern audience. How then to consider the section of “Men” without a trace of irony or comment about men in 2018. There is the meandering, winding story of Odysseus and his ten year absence from his wife, the patient Penelope, as he fought in the Trojan War. But then it took him another ten years to get home, what with that bad luck with the escaping winds, the Cyclops, the sirens and the attractive women beckoning.  I might have expected Penelope to say to him when he finally decided to put a move on it to return and came home: “What happened, dear, did your compass break?”

And of course from a woman’s point of view, how typical of the macho man Odysseus to be given a bag of bad winds tied up tight  and told not to open it and then he does not impart that news to his men, leaving them to think all manner of things, none of it good. The result of course is their curiosity got the better of them and they opened the bag, the winds escaped and that blew Odysseus and his men off course for years. But Mr. Fry offers no comment or subtext. And of course no women are worth mentioning as their own entity and the Myths have plenty of them with spunk, pluck and brains.

Fry does wrap all the stories up at the end, extolling the virtues of men and how far they have come from the gods, but it seems like so much admiration at the stories without a modern context. This unedited, slavish admiration of these stories is shared by his director.

A dapper man on the opening of Mythos: Men was heard to say that he loved the show. That Stephen Fry “was the classics professor he never had.” Very well and good but this isn’t a classics class, it’s supposed to be a place for theatre and really, this isn’t theatre.

It’s obvious Stephen Fry loves words. He has said that he would say in 100 words what could just as easily be said in 10. That’s the problem. One doesn’t get the sense that any cutting or any kind of editing has been done on Mythos A Trilogy: Gods. Heroes. Men and it needs it, drastically.

The first to be cut is the “Mythical Pursuit,” too clever for words and we don’t need it. Ditto the bit about “Ask the Oracle of “DelFRY” (Ugh). Next trade in that self-indulgence for a lot more focus, self-restraint and less preening. Get a very big blue pencil or an axe and cut!!!!

Presented by the Shaw Festival

Opened: June 7 8, 9, 2018

Closes; July 15, 2018.

Running Time: Each part lasts 2 hours, 30 minutes with one intermission.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Kent James June 19, 2018 at 2:45 pm


You shot your wad at this production already. You hate that Shaw is doing it, you hate that Shaw donors wanted to support it, you detest everything that Tim Carroll touches including his car keys, and you detest self indulgence except when it comes to your use of the pronoun “one” when, presumably, you mean I.

Except for that, as always, there’s tons to admire and chew on in this review. Clearly you even enjoyed the plays intermittently. I look forward to comparing notes once we get to see it.




2 Carol Jones June 23, 2018 at 10:13 pm

Saw Heros this afternoon. Meh! Just as reviewed above. Too long, cut the Mythical Pursuit. Ask the Del(fry) was cringe worthy.

As a keen lover of Greek Mythology, I was disappointed. This production reminds me of a 1980s PBS attempt to explain the subject to people who really want the juicy bits but none of the context or frankly any of its relevance today (and there is lots!)
Now that would have been theatre–examine the topic don’t just read us a book.
So sad : (


3 Kent James July 16, 2018 at 11:41 am

Hi Lynn:

Saw the closing performances of all 3 parts on Saturday and Sunday.

As you predicted, I did like it. The trick, and it’s quite a trick, is curating the stories and creating a cohesive narrative, and then delivering it convincingly and entertainingly. It worked pretty well for me, but I can certainly see where you’re coming from in your review.

It seemed more like a reading than an audiobook, and more like a Ted Talk than a reading, but I enjoyed seeing it with a rapt audience – it wouldn’t, I don’t think, hold up to being seen more than once (your mileage seems to vary toward “best seen in a Reader’s Digest Condensed version). What seems spontaneous can only seem that way once (At Liberty and many other one man shows have taught us that).

To compare it to another show with a bunch of roughly 1 hour segments, it suffers by comparison to the Taylor Mac 24 Decade History because Fry makes the structure of each hour more or less identical, while Mac does something different with every hour (now an hour of sea shanties, now a smack down between Walt Whitman and Stephen Foster, now a Mikkado with the yellow-face removed by virtue of setting it on Mars instead of in Japan).