Following its phenomenal success in the UK, Mythos: Ragnarök will be making its international debut at Melbourne Fringe Festival this October. The creator of the show, Ed Gamester, is delivering a spectacle truly unique in the world. Dexterously weaving ancient myths and legends into an original story, it is the only theatre show ever to use a cast of professional wrestlers!
Gamester says the show combines his three lifelong passions: live storytelling, Norse mythology and pro wrestling. He’s been actively engaged and involved in all three for over 20 years and the idea to combine them came to him in a flash, because it seemed obvious.
“‘Massive and exaggerated characters performing feats of strength and combat to win fame or power, or overcome some ridiculous obstacle…'” Who can tell whether I’m describing the adventures of Thor or a modern day pro wrestling storyline? Who better to perform the characters of Gods and monsters than pro wrestlers, who are essentially real-life superheroes!”
Beyond that, Gamester’s experiences within the worlds of acting and stunts taught him that professional wrestling is entirely misunderstood by other performers, producers and directors in the entertainment industry. “People think of it as a fake sport done by actors or bad acting done by sportspeople, because all they know about wrestling is what they remember seeing on TV as a child,” he says. “Mythos is a chance for me to show people what wrestling can be, and showcase some of my favourite performers in the world.”
Gamester acknowledges that no one has ever used pro wrestling like this before. “People have made theatre shows about wrestling that include some wrestling, but nobody has ever cast wrestlers into a play and allowed them to use their wrestling skills as an integral part of the characterisations and storyline.”
By taking the form of pro wrestling out of its usual context of pretend competition and away from the environment of a ring with a referee, Gamester and the team are allowing people to experience it as stage combat. “We get to use it as a storytelling device, as it is intended to be, rather than worrying whether people believe what we are doing is any more “real” than traditional theatre.”
Gamester thinks this allows people to relax and enjoy the show. “Knowing that it’s being presented as a play rather than a fight that we want you to believe is real, when it obviously isn’t.”
The show is indeed a work in progress, having reached its 83rd performance (by this printing), Gamester is still not sure he can say it’s a finished work.
“We have a development period lined up next year, because thus far we have never even had a full day of rehearsal! A lot of what we do takes place on the stage in the moment: the physical nature of the show means it’s high risk to rehearse too much, which I know sounds backwards.”
As an added stress, there’s no funding available for what they do: Gamester has had to fund the project himself from scratch, starting with a conceptual workshop in a chair warehouse in November 2021, to put something together for their debut in December 2021.
“Of course, we didn’t know it would be a debut: we thought it would be a one off performance! 82 shows later, we’re 10,000 miles away in Melbourne hoping people here will love it as much as they do at home.
Otherwise, the creative process has been that the show and its stage, props and costume have taken over mine and my girlfriend’s life, house and wellbeing for two years solid. We have invested everything into this creation and it’s an honour to know people appreciate it.”
Gamester credits his most joyous moment as the shows first standing ovation at Edinburgh Fringe 2022. “It’s one thing to perform for friends, family and fans, but by that point it was a room sold out to total strangers with no emotional investment in my work at all, so to know they loved it meant the world to all of us in the cast,” says Gamester.
Gamester says it’s hard to explain to anyone who has never wrestled or taken part in very physical circus or theatre, but there is an extra level of intimacy to sharing a story that also involves being in painful, dangerous situations over and over again.
Contrary to this, Gamester says the hardest moments have all come at the end of long runs, where he’s battered and bruised and even the smallest thing hurts. Gamester produces and directs the show himself, so every little obstacle and challenge involved with the company, whether it’s personal, financial or technical, comes with him onto the stage – and some nights, he says, it pushes him to the very limit of what he can handle.
An example of this was on the penultimate show of Edinburgh Fringe 2023 when he landed badly and tore a ligament in his ankle in the first scene, he then had to perform the rest of the show on one leg. Gamester acknowledges that, physically, that was the hardest moment.
Another of the most joyous moments for Gamester was the first time he watched girlfriend, Melanie, who designs and makes all the costumes, walk out on stage for the first time. “She wasn’t cast into the show, but we needed somebody for a last minute role and she fitted it perfectly, despite having never been in stage in her life.”
Forever nostalgic, Gamester says he would like people to leave his show feeling the same way they used to feel after watching wrestling as a kid. He would also love them to leave with a new interest in the myths and the characters, and wondering what’s authentic and what he’s adapted. “I hope people will walk out with a newfound appreciation for what pro wrestlers do, day in and day out, and a respect of the craft we have learned. At the end of the day, I’m a performer, a storyteller and an entertainer: I made this show because I want people to enjoy it and find inspiration in things they may have never considered before.”
Gamester has a sort of yin and yang approach when asked whether the success of the show has surprised him. “I cast the show myself and I know how talented these people are, so I knew they deserved to get a huge reaction, if I could find an audience for them,” he says. “At the same time, wrestling is a niche interest and nobody has ever used it like this before, so it has been a huge surprise that so many people have come to see it, have come back multiple times, and have loved it as much as they have.”
He acknowledges it’s hard to put a finger on exactly why people are so fond of the show, but he thinks – ironically – it’s because it’s real. “If we look battered by the end of the show, it’s not because some makeup artist has done their work – it’s because our show is full on!
Sure we’re not actually fighting each other and we’re trying to keep each other safe, but we are lifting and slamming and punching and kicking one another, in the pursuit of the best portrayal of the conflicts within the stories. Seeing it up close, you can see the extent to which what we do is legitimate, and I think people appreciate how much we need to love what we do to go through that every night.”
Gamester also believes people are so attached to the show because it doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s daring and intense, but it’s not preachy or political – it’s fun! The team is not trying to do or be anything more than what they are, which is physical storytellers having the time of their lives.
To entice audiences, Gamester says, “You have never seen anything like this before. If you’ve never seen wrestling, you’re in for a treat. If you have seen wrestling, it’s not like what you’ve seen! You don’t need to know anything about myths, Vikings, wrestling or theatre to enjoy it: it’s totally original, easy to follow and a whole heap of fun.”
Named a “Must See Show” of Edinburgh Fringe, Mythos: Ragnarök has played to sold out audiences around the UK, earned rave reviews since its debut in 2021 and is now making its international debut at Melbourne Fringe 2023.
October 3 – 29
Image: Mary George