More fool Fry: frank and funny at the Festival

Stephen Fry’s eloquence, intellect, and razor-sharp wit are just a few of the attributes that have helped to shape him into the national treasure he is today. Fry frequently appears on our screens, whether to educate us about random facts, to front a miscellaneous documentary, or to promote a charitable cause. It’s half expected that if you have a question about anything, he’ll have the answer up his sleeve. This is probably why he was voted the perfect dinner guest by readers of Metro.

The release of his third autobiographical instalment, More Fool Me, gives us insight into the less squeaky clean side of the 57 year old. Capturing his life during the 1980s to the early 90s, it shows him addled with addiction and coping with his undiagnosed manic depression. The press surrounding the release has focused a lot on his retelling of the prestigious places at which he snorted cocaine during this stint. There are also sprinklings of gossip; it’s like reading the Daily Mail but without the guilt and shame.

On September 29, the accomplished entertainer brought his promotional tour to the Festival Theatre. Entering to tumultuous applause, Fry remarks on how we all know who he is whilst he barely knows us. That is, before jokingly pointing out a random audience member and saying: “apart from you, I saw you on Grindr” [Tinder for the gay and bi-curious]. There is some comic disposition in Stephen Fry after all, despite his reminders that he is not a comedian.

The man is completely at ease on stage as he charms us for an hour and a half, although also dealing with some serious issues. He speaks very openly about his mental health, and there’s a feeling that he’s imparting something as we see his more vulnerable side come through.  In a poignant moment, Fry, who is also president of the mental health charity Mind, creates an analogy between weather and mood with regard to depression. With external weather, he explains, you might say to yourself,  “Oh no, it’s raining again”, and take precautions by putting up an umbrella. With depression, it’s persistent internal weather; you might go outside in the sun, trying to convince yourself that everything is fine, but you’re getting soaked through inside. We need better tools to deal with the problem, and Fry appeals to the public to remove the taboo from the issue. On the subject of his struggle with drugs, he offers no excuses. Mentioning the failure of the alcohol ban during the Prohibition, he advocates for a drastic change in drug policy.

A lighter side of the evening features some readings and retellings. There are fantastic impressions, most notably of Hugh Laurie and Rowan Atkinson. Listening to Stephen Fry narrate the story of having the Prince of Wales over for tea is a festivity of awkward Britishness, generating fits of laughter from his spectators.

Fry’s naysayers are quick to describe him as arrogant, but it would be hard to find an example of this tonight. The man is heartwarmingly kind and honest, funny, and naughtily rude in places. Fry was once given a piece of advice from Noel Coward about having an audience: “whatever you do, don’t f***ing bore them”. It’s hard to not feel immersed in what he says tonight.

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