Michael Hayward

This past summer we drove from Vancouver to Niagara-on-the-Lake and back in order to see Stephen Fry in three one-man plays at the Shaw Festival, plays based on Fry’s new book Mythos: A Retelling of the Myths of Ancient Greece (Michael Joseph). Sure, it was a bit impulsive and self-indulgent, but hey: why not? The road trip was a good excuse to explore the backroads of south Saskatchewan, the Canadian Shield north of Lake Superior, and Manitoulin Island. Mythos (the book and the plays) is Fry’s unique take on the myths of ancient Greece, which he feels have “survived with a detail, richness, life and colour that distinguish [them] from other mythologies.” Fry’s Zeus is vain, vindictive and all-powerful; his Hera is cruel and ambitious. Their wedding celebrations feature a culinary competition—imagine the Great British Bake Off, with animals and “the lesser immortals” as contestants. “There were cakes, buns, biscuits, soups, eel-skin terrines, porridges made with moss and mould.” The winning dish, “the seemingly modest submission of a shy little creature named Melissa,” is “something new. Something gloopy without being unguent, slow-moving without being stodgy, sweet without being cloying, and perfumed with a flavour that drove the senses wild with pleasure. Melissa’s name for it was ‘honey’.” Fry has a loyal fan base, drawing from his sketch comedy series with Hugh Laurie: A Bit of Fry and Laurie (1989–1995); and from Jeeves and Wooster (199–1993), where Fry played Jeeves to Laurie’s Bertie Wooster; and perhaps from Fry’s narration of the Harry Potter audio books. So the plays (two evening performances and a matinee) played to packed houses. It took a while to adjust to the rather pared-down staging—Fry seated in a wing-backed chair at centre stage, telling ancient stories—but eventually we started to remember: long-ago bedtimes, and the tales told around campfires, when we were young.

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