“Mythos: Ragnarok” entered the fringe stages by storm a year ago, and has been playing to sold-out audiences in Edinburgh, London and York, I sat down with the show’s creator Ed Gamerster, to find out more about the process of creation of such a unique show, the interpretation of Nordic mythology and staging a show with barely any rehearsals.
Sounds bonkers? Well, the team behind the Mythos is exactly that: bold, passionate and not afraid to break the rules of traditional theatre.
Read my review of “Mythos: Ragnarok” staged during the Vault Festival in London here. Find out more about Mythos: Ragnarok on the show’s official site here.
I would like to start with a quick introduction. For the readers who haven’t had the pleasure to see the show yet, what is Mythos Ragnarok all about?
Ed Gamester: The show weaves together traditional Norse myths into a unique story and experiments using wrestling to enhance the storytelling itself. We take wrestling out of its traditional sports context and focus on it as a type of stage combat. In the UK, wrestling has a long history of being presented as a pseudo-sport, but in “Mythos” we remove the controversial element of wrestling not being competitive and instead incorporate it as a form of performance art within a story.
In terms of your personal story behind the creation of the show, how did it come to life? How long did it take? And what were the highs and lows of the process?
The show is a little over a year old, we debuted it in the Cockpit in London in December 2022. Before that, I spent around a year experimenting with different ways to incorporate wrestling into live shows, including immersive and interactive theatre performances. I’ve had experience participating in performances that required wrestling, but I noticed that it would often distract from the main focus of the show.
During the COVID lockdown, I created a show as a way to get back to live performances with friends, even if there were no audiences yet. It was well received, and I saw the potential to turn it into a bigger project. However, creating a theatre show like Mythos came with significant financial challenges. Mel ((Melanie Watson, costume designer and co-producer) and I had to make cutbacks, including living in a van and selling items to buy the ring (“squared circle” – a space where the wrestlers fight) and costumes. Mel spent many days in charity shops looking for affordable clothes to use as costumes, and I had to ask for many favours from my wrestling friends who were keen to get involved despite limited financial compensation.
When you say creating a show like this costs a lot of money, would you be able to pinpoint some specific costs?
I don’t really think of these costs in terms of money anymore, I think more in terms of rent – because when you give up your house to spend that money on something else, you start thinking “Man, I could pay my rent with that”. So the wrestling ring would be six months’ rent, and the costumes would be six months’ rent, and then going to the Edinburgh Fringe, could cost you as much as a deposit for a large house. It’s an astronomical amount of money, but it was a risk that needed to be taken. And I realised, I guess there’s a reason why no one else has done it. And that’s one of them. It’s scary. But it never felt like a risk to me. It felt like an investment.
And with all the costs and all the overwhelming preparations involved, what kept you going?
Simply, people. The people involved in the show made all the difference. “Mythos” provided a safe and enjoyable outlet for the cast, some of whom no longer wrestle professionally due to the culture surrounding the sport.
It was an opportunity to create an environment that was free of the politics and difficulties that often come with wrestling or any performance industry.
The success of this project and the positive experiences of the cast had a ripple effect and raised the standard for how wrestlers are treated. It proved that I was doing something much bigger than the show and much bigger than my aspirations for it. But without the support of the people involved, I may have given up on the project completely.
And how big is the team behind “Mythos” right now?
We’re 25. It’s a huge cast, but for a reason. Right now the size of the cast is crucial to ensure that the show can go on even if someone gets hurt or sick. It’s an extremely physical show. Every character must have multiple performers able to take over in case of emergencies. Otherwise, we can’t ever be treated as a serious theatre show. Because how can you do a run if halfway through the show, someone breaks a leg (literally), and then can’t complete the rest of the show?
I’m keen to let as many people perform as I can, as it makes a difference for performers because we already had cases of people getting spotted by producers or other creators looking for cast members to do stunts or wrestling in other shows – so in this way, it’s an additional way to get exposure and grow their careers.
Talking about safety, how accident-prone is the show? Because you do have a sword fight part, stunts part and wrestling part – all of them potentially causing some issues to the health and safety of the cast.
I mean, it’s ludicrously dangerous! There’s always something that can go wrong, in theory, and for someone who’s not a professional, it’s a big risk. But for pros, it’s no more dangerous than dancing (speaking metaphorically). Nevertheless, if you do something 100 times, all it takes is to get injured once to get out of the game. Or even if everything goes right, doing something 100 times will, eventually, take its toll on your body. And I don’t want anyone coming out of “Mythos” not being able to walk properly in 10 years, just because they did one too many stunts. So we keep a large cast to avoid injuries and allow time for rest periods in between shows for everyone. The goal is to minimise the risk of injury for everyone.
What kind of people end up working with you on “Mythos”? Is there a certain personality trait that you look for while looking for new cast members?
Well, you see, it’s not about a specific person per se, but rather the kind of people we have on our show. We’re a bunch of neurodiverse weirdos. So personality-wise, they’re all over the place. But there is one thing they share in common, they’re hard workers.
These guys put everything on the line, and I know it sounds like a cheesy expression, but in the wrestling world, it means something. They don’t hold back, they give everything they’ve got. And there’s something else they’ve got, they trust me. Now, I can’t stress enough how little rehearsal anyone has before they step into the ring. We throw them in the deep end, and we expect them to swim. That’s how I learned, and I know it’s not normal or even professional in the theatre world, where they have rehearsals and all that jazz. But we don’t have that luxury. We have a rough idea of what we’re meant to do, and that’s it. We might get a bit of time in the car to go over things, but most of the time, we just wing it.
And unfortunately, because this has never been done before, and because we face a lot of challenges that other theatre productions don’t, I need people who are committed to the cause. I can’t have anyone doubting themselves or lacking confidence, because that’s a recipe for disaster. If you’re not 100% engrossed in what you’re doing, someone will get hurt. So yeah, there’s no specific personality type that works best, but everyone shares a commitment. They know they’ve got to do their thing, no matter how scared they might be or unsure about their lines or moves. And that’s why I work with wrestlers – they perform under immense pressure and constantly changing circumstances, but they rise to the occasion.
What would be, from your point of view, the most challenging part of the show so far to put together?
Acting has been a big challenge because most of the cast has never done dialogue acting before. It’s difficult to teach them to act instead of just doing wrestling-style acting. The wrestling stuff is easy, we can do it in our sleep. The hard part is teaching the massive cast how to block and move around in a small space, and adjust it to different types of stages, from in-the-round to thrust.
We have a scene with eight characters present on the stage at the same time – I would say it’s the most difficult because it changes depending on the stage setup and has to present everyone in one space at the same time. And it’s just so many humans to move around!
And how did flip a project like this from a small show into a nationwide tour?
After the initial feedback from the audience, I thought to myself, that this could be bigger. I booked some more shows and applied for the Arts Council funding to keep the shows going, but I didn’t get it. So… I paid for it all myself. When Edinburgh Fringe came up, the cost was astronomical. So I just thought, it was a roll of the dice. If it went okay, and sell well, I could just lose a lot of money. Or if it goes terribly, I’m bankrupt and have to flee the land (haha). And it sold alright!
But I still had issues talking to potential venues about staging “Mythos” there – it could be because I’m new to the industry, or the keyword “wrestling” wasn’t much help in opening conversations. One of the upsides of Edinburgh Fringe was that we got spotted by the people from Phil McIntyre Entertainment. They said they’d help find venues and opened some doors. They also put down a substantial amount as a loan, to help us finance more shows this year, so that’s a relief. That’s how we’re now planning a series of performances in various places in the UK.
From the perspective of a show creator the person who bootstrapped the whole thing, what kind of tips would you give to people who would who are just at the beginning of their show creation process?
Honestly, I’m not the best person to give tips because I don’t know much. My success has mostly come from my stubbornness and being surrounded by amazing people. But if I had to give one tip, it would be to invest in people. It doesn’t matter how good your writing is, if you don’t have the right people to bring it to life, it’s not going to be great. To find the right people first, and then make sure they’re fully on board. Create an environment where they can be the best they can be, and everything else will fall into place. If you have the best people and the best environment, but the show isn’t great, something’s gone wrong in the middle. And if you have the best people and the best show, but the environment isn’t great, something’s still wrong. But if you have the best people, the best environment, and the best show, then you’re golden. So invest in people, find the right ones, and take care of them, because they’ll take care of you.
Do you have any inspirations, whether in performance art or in general, whose work you admire and look up to?
Yeah, well, you know, something that impacted me was watching Slava’s Snow Show. It’s a clown show I caught at the Southbank Theatre years back, and the way they told stories without any words, just through physical theatre, blew my mind. It made me want to become a clown and focus more on physical performance than wrestling ever did.
But I can’t say it’s been a driving force or inspiration for me because when I set out to create my own thing, I didn’t want to do anything that had already been done. If I had grown up with the Mythological Theatre, I would have pursued theatre, acting, and stunts at a young age, and my life would have been different, but there wasn’t one.
So now, if I can create that for others, that’s what motivates me. It’s not about artistic inspiration. The individuals in my show are the ones who inspired me. Everyone in the show is there because they inspired me. While I was wrestling and working, the time I spent with those people made me want to work more with them.
Can you suggest any books or resources for anyone interested in Nordic mythology to delve deeper into the topic after watching a performance and feeling the desire to learn more?
I mean, there are numerous sources to explore. If you don’t mind me being a bit unoriginal, I highly recommend Neil Gaiman’s “Norse Mythology.” It presents the myths in an easy-to-understand way, with a touch of humour that makes them enjoyable to read. Sometimes, people get so focused on accurate translations that they forget that myths are meant to be amusing. That’s why I tried to make my mythos more entertaining by ditching some of the stuffiness. I believe that’s what myths are for, to entertain. Old Icelandic poetry contains many myths, so there are a few books you can check out as well.
Jackson Crawford has translated the Old Norse poem Havamal, and while it’s not the myths themselves, there are many references within it. Additionally, there is another poem called Völuspá which contains myths in poetic form. The Icelandic sagas are also a great source, with many books written about them. Interestingly, children’s books about Norse myths can be some of the best resources because they focus on the most exciting parts of the stories.
The humour and silliness of myths are what makes them appealing to me, similar to wrestling with its big, over-the-top characters and wacky storylines. While myths have moral implications and are related to religious beliefs, they are not meant to be taken too seriously. Like cartoons, they are not meant to be scrutinised for accuracy or details but rather enjoyed for their entertainment value. Looking for mistakes or inaccuracies in myths is missing the point of their fun and playful nature.
And is there something you’d like to add, that usually, nobody asks you about?
People ask me about working with wrestlers and the risks involved, but they rarely ask about what makes wrestlers such exceptional performers. In Mythos, wrestlers are cast in all the roles, because wrestling is present, but even if it wasn’t, wrestlers would still be my choice of cast. Wrestlers possess an instinct for interpreting and eliciting reactions, along with incredible courage, which makes anything possible.
Wrestling’s nature demands it. While some wrestlers are remarkably talented in various ways, I cannot think of any other performers who could do what they do. They improvise, possess a remarkable instinct for human emotion, manipulate energy, and have this ridiculous courage to perform fearlessly. They are like superheroes with the ability to improvise and perform with indestructibility.
Catch “Mythos: Ragnarok” during their national tour in 2023 (click here for details)
The Y Theatre 11th March, Leicester
Royal and Derngate 29th April, Northampton
Brighton Fringe 23 May – 3 June
Edinburgh Fringe 2023