Stephen Fry is undertaking his first UK tour in nearly 40 years. Rightly hailed as a wonderful storyteller, he will be travelling the country with his new show.
Stephen will travel the UK, including visits to London and Oxford, delivering this trilogy of plays about Greek gods, heroes and men. Loosely scripted, each evening will afford the audience the opportunity to revel in Stephen’s signature wit, natural charm and effortless intelligence.
Q. We’re interested in the format of this show – can you tell us more about it?
A: “I tried Mythos out at the Shaw Festival in Canada last year, and it went so well. It was also a really interesting use of the stage; it’s not stand-up comedy and it’s not drama. It felt like a new genre, and yet it’s the oldest genre there is – gathering people round the fire to tell them the story of how everything began.”
Q. It sounds like a return to the original oral tradition?
A: “The myths are such great stories, and it just struck me as a fun way of telling them. I also noticed a lot of people really enjoy audio books. Because these stories were originally told to other listeners, they work incredibly well in that communal sense of the hearth. After a long day’s work or a long day chasing antelope, early humans would all come back and sit round the fire and tell stories of how the world was made and how spiders would spin webs and so on.”
Q. You have an immense knowledge of Greek mythology; are you hoping to share this with the wider audience?
A: “The stories cast a kind of spell if you are telling them right. Two of the most popular ‘man-made’ mythological sequences are the Tolkien and the JK Rowling series – I suppose you could add to that what is known as the MCU, the Marvel Comics Universe, and Game of Thrones to that mix. These are 20th century versions of Greek myth – and they owe everything to Greek myth. It shows there’s a great yearning for stories which are out of our own milieu. The moment you are inside that story, it’s more universal because it’s about the human spirit without it actually being about living in London, or living in Manchester, or living in New York, or living in Hong Kong, which is a very specific thing. I think that’s why people flock to see things like The Lord of the Rings, The Avengers or Game of Thrones. You have the elemental nature of greed, betrayal, lust, love, passion – these human virtues and vices are all on display. You don’t have to think it’s a satire on politics – it’s about everything. I think that’s part of the excitement of it.”
Q. Do think people need to have studied classics at school to appreciate the show?
A: “There is an enormous appetite amongst all kinds of people to put right what they left out at school. That’s why history, science and art are so popular now. More people go to art galleries in London than football matches. There is this hunger for knowing more, a curiosity. I hope I can take the smell of the school out of Greek myths because a lot of people associate them with a so-called classical education and believe that you have to be intellectual to understand them. But that’s just not the case. It’s not a test of intelligence, it’s quite the reverse. It’s welcoming you into this fantastic world, which is universal, sexy, juicy and full of fury and rage and adventures.”
Q. Can you give us an example of a myth that resonates with modern times?
A: “The story of Pandora’s Box is very much analogous with the rise of the internet. The Greeks understood that if something was too good to be true, then it was too good to be true. Everything casts a shadow – it took us a little bit of time to realise that the internet was casting a shadow. Pandora means gifted – she was given all the gifts of all the different Gods: wisdom, beauty, prophecy, art and music and so on. But she was also given this box which she was told she wasn’t to open. I was incredibly naive. When I was a very early user of the internet, I was a huge evangelist for it – I thought that it would solve the problems of the world. I thought, ‘Boundaries will dissolve and tribal divides and hatreds will disappear, and we’ll all suddenly understand each other and people who have unusual and different hobbies will be able to contact each other across the world instantly rather than relying on quarterly fanzines. Pandora opened a box and out flew all these creatures who destroyed the world in which humans lived. This world without pain, this paradisiacal world was suddenly infested with the creatures from her box: war, famine, lies, murder, betrayal, lust and anger. Similarly, at some point in the first decade of this century, the lid of the box came off the internet, and trolls, abusers, groomers, misinformation, viruses, all flew out. What had seemed like a paradise, a beautiful clean pool in which we could all swim, was suddenly littered with broken glass and horribly polluted. That can sound very pessimistic, but the lesson is that life can be very tough.”
Q. Can anyone connect with these stories then?
A: “I’d heard of Narcissus and Echo. I knew there was something about turning into a flower, but I never knew that.’ I also hope everyone connects with these myths, which are deep in our language and our culture. I think this show will feed our curiosity. The most important thing is that the audience realise just how approachable the Greek myths are. These are the creations of ordinary people. They are all our ancestors.”