Review: Mythos: Heroes (Edinburgh Festival Theatre)

Stephen Fry brings his novel to the stage in three parts

© David Cooper

There are many baffling phenomena in today's world: the future after Brexit, the conflict in the Middle East, the turmoil in the world economy, and the general adoration of Stephen Fry.

Why on earth is he so lauded, by public and media alike?! I just don't understand it. He's perfectly alright as an actor, but I don't buy this bestowing of national treasure status, particularly when it comes to the persona of public intellectual. Sure, he has read a few books, and he can speak about them in an erudite manner, but I've never come across an idea of his that has struck me as original, let alone important, and to me there's a satisfaction about his perception of himself that borders on smugness.

Blame me for my own baggage, but I found Mythos tedious, over-long, narratively shapeless and fatally un-theatrical. As an idea the concept is promising enough, Fry's own retelling of the Greek myths, organised into a trilogy of one-man-shows: Gods, Heroes, Men. (I saw the middle part.) Writers from Chaucer to Robert Graves and Roger Lancelyn Green have been doing that for centuries, and it might have worked well enough in Fry's books.

But this just isn't a theatre show. Fry on his own is, no doubt, perfectly engaging company, but spending three hours (!) with him as he tells the stories of Perseus, Heracles and Theseus feels tiresome, insufficiently varied and even a little indulgent. The vocal accents he gives to some of his characters are sufficiently naff to generate their own line of mockery, and there's precious little to look at, save Fry himself in an armchair. Yes, there are some projections, coloured lights and occasional music, but these visual aids in a darkened theatre felt more like watching a show at the Planetarium.

It's an impressive feat of memory to tell the stories in a monologue, but you'd be able to do that too if you'd grown up with them all your life, let alone written a book about them. A tiny bit of audience interaction for a "game" of Mythical Pursuit turns into another opportunity for Fry to parade his immortal knowledge, but it isn't enough to make this an engaging theatrical experience. I might as well have stayed at home and listened to the audiobook: at least I'd have been more comfortable.

Maybe if you're completely new to the Greek myths this show might have something for you, but I didn't laugh once at the jokes, I wasn't engaged in the format and, worst of all, I was bored; a criminal offence when you're telling stories like this.

Repeatedly I kept thinking that this show isn't about the Greek heroes: it's about Fry himself. He sits alone, god-like on the stage, parading his divine knowledge while we mortals worship at his altar and receive his wisdom. There's a nauseating section where the "Oracle of Del-Fry" answers questions from the audiences and dispenses immortal wisdom, but on the issue of Boris and Brexit "the oracle is as clueless as you." Some of it was self-mockery, but as these three hours dragged by I couldn't help but think that Fry had started to believe his own myth. Consign this to Tartarus by way of Lethe.