UEA Literary Festival: Stephen Fry

As Stephen Fry descends the stairs of Lecture Theatre 1, a strange awed hush falls over the crowd. Fry notices this effect he has, a reaction he must be used to by now, and responds with a gentle jab at the audience “thank you for the enormous round of applause” which of course is greeted with laughter and subsequent belated applause. This ability to charm a crowd of many ages, ranging from students in their 20s to locals in their 70s, is due to his diverse career which spans nearly four decades; from Blackadder to QI, from Wilde to Sherlock Holmes and from The Fry Chronicles to his newest book Mythos.

It is the latter book which he is at UEA to promote, Mythos: A Retelling of the Myths of Ancient Greece. As the title suggests, Fry retells some classic Greek myths such as Prometheus, Midas and Cupid but in a more accessible voice for a modern reader. Fry proclaims that the book is a labour of love and treats his captivated audience to two readings over the course of the hour. As one would expect, the tone is light and smattered with Fry’s signature wit and charm as he reads his first chapter, which outlines the beginning of the universe. “Your trousers began as chaotic atoms”, Fry reads, “that somehow coalesced into matter that ordered itself over aeons into a living substance that slowly evolved into a cotton plant that was woven into the handsome stuff that sheathes your lovely legs.”

While Fry goes on to discuss his relationship with Greek myths, which began at a young age, and gives us a superb reading of Pandora’s Jar (not Pandora’s Box, as he informs the audience, as this is a mistranslation), sadly there is no discussion of any other aspects of his career outside of the book he is promoting. Even when the floor opens for an audience Q & A, the questions stay safely in the realms of Greek mythology – not even addressing his other fictional and non-fictional books which, considering it is a Literary Festival, is a shame.

The only time he goes off tangent to talk about another matter is when discussing a documentary which explored bipolar disorder in which he asked people: “if there were a button you could press to cure your bipolar, would you press it?” Suffering from bipolar disorder himself, Fry describes how, while upon the surface this may be a simple question for those who are not familiar with the full effects of bipolar, the disorder provides the individual with moments of genius and ecstasy. Of the 40 people he interviewed with bipolar, only four stated they would press the button, which was a fascinating insight he chose to share with us.

Despite sticking to principally selling his book, Fry still remains a national treasure. An hour in his company, whether he be talking about Greek mythology or philosophy, is a privilege.


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August 2022
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