Seen at Festival Theatre, Edinburgh
The benefits of a classical education – Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman), Die Hard
I never really ‘got’ Greek mythology. Though I knew odd stories and characters from classical plays and fables, it always remained a fog.
How to make sense of its epic chronicle of gods, humans, legends and symbolisms explaining the world and its creation?
How to get the full picture – enjoy it, even?
Having listened – pleasurably, via Audible – through 30 hours of Stephen Fry reading his own version of the Greek myths – I’ve become familiar with the territory at least (Chaos, the Cosmos, Mount Olympus etc).
It’s the amazing stories and the figures, immortal and mortal, that open up this world, made daylight by Fry’s clever adaptation from a myriad of original sources.
That, and his regular detours decoding the language links between the Greek myths and our culture today, via the Greek derivations we still use.
This live theatre version has the man himself on stage throughout. As he ambled on, suppressing ecstatic applause, somebody started a chorus of Happy Birthday, dear Stephen. 62 today!
The pleasure remains in the fantastic stories, told in his mellifluous tones. The derivation of that word, by the way, is honey. Fry includes the tale of Zeus, Melissa the bee and the nectar for the gods’ wedding as just one example of how the ancient Greek stories, ideas and language still connect to us so vividly today.
In the book and audio versions, he gives a continual flow of events, making connections between the characters and what they get up to.
On stage, it’s more a selection of individual stories – cracking yarns with sex, bloodshed, torture, fantastical births, deaths and metamorphoses.
Uranos’s sperm spilling from his severed genitalia into the sea to give birth to Aphrodite; Kronos vomiting up his swallowed children; Zeus’s skull being axed open to give birth to Athena and the final image of an eagle flying towards us, ready to gouge out Prometheus’s liver. These and other rich episodes told in all their gory.
The show I saw is just the first – Gods – of the trilogy. He’s also touring Heroes and Men. You might be able to catch some, or even all, of them over the next few weeks in Birmingham, London, Oxford and Gateshead.
Me, I’ll wait for Men – the third part yet to be published, so I’ll have another 15 hours or so on the headphones. A pleasure to come.
by Paul Bassett, Glasgow, September 2019.