Team Viking

Thu 4th – Sun 28th August 2016

reviews

Una O'Sullivan

at 10:27 on 9th Aug 2016

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‘Team Viking’ is a funny, touching story about how friendships begin and end throughout life. James Rowland precedes his performance with an endearing preamble of chats with the audience. He hops offstage to change the lights, returns to record a few bars of music on a tiny keyboard and a loop pedal, and then the storytelling begins. The title stems from the name of a group of childhood friends— Tom, Sarah, and Rowland himself— and the play deals with their childhood and adulthood adventures.

Essentially, this one man show is just Rowland telling a story about his life— he tells us it’s true at least, and I am inclined to believe that it’s more or less the truth. The story is madcap and moving enough to merit a telling, and yet the narrative has something missing for me. The storytelling style is poetic and well-rehearsed, so at the times when Rowland tells a joke, or offers a casual aside, it is too ‘performed’ to be convincing. The distinction between Rowland as a frank anecdotalist, and Rowland stirred to tenderness, leaves a painful scent of exhibitionism which is bizarre at a comedy play. Rowland himself says that he is only a supporting character in the story, yet of course his experience is at the centre of it. Perhaps he could go further in the impressions of the other characters, in order to make the story more real.

The plot is funny, poignant, and sad, and yet the exposition, in which Rowland narrates the cute yet unremarkable elements of friendships, is unengaging. The key moments of the play are when we, the audience, are supposed to feel something for Rowland’s friends Tom and Sarah, and yet the characters aren’t fleshed out enough for me to care about them. For the entire show it is unclear why he is onstage, telling this story.

The themes Rowland grapples with are friendship, and death, and what it is to be a friend in a time of crisis. Twists come at unexpected moments, jokes are well-timed and witty, and the poetic ending is a powerfully dramatic surge of emotion. The tale is stirring, and Rowland has clearly poured his soul into the small-scale performance, preparing layers of a loop track throughout the show in tasteful breaks in the storytelling. For Free Fringe, this show is a lovely way to pass an hour.

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Lizzie Buckman

at 11:12 on 9th Aug 2016

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If your best friend asked you to give them a Viking burial, would you do it? This is the premise of James Rowland’s story ‘Team Viking’, told by Rowland with colloquial poetry, delicate humour and a gentle fondness. Upon arriving, Rowland welcomes his audience personally, somehow instilling a soulless conference room with the intimacy and warmth of a grandparent’s living room.

Rowland’s bizarre tale is so successful - partly due to just how well he comes across. Despite possessing the beard (and hat) of a Viking, his demeanour is far from ferocious - he seems like a genuinely lovely man. The sort of person who would tell a fantastic story over a pint or two at the pub and yes, the sort of person who might just love his friend enough to smuggle his dead body and burn it on a stolen boat, floating away down the river Thames.

Rowland’s story takes his audience from his father’s funeral, to the funeral of his best friend, stopping off at a break up, cancer diagnosis and confession of love along the way - but he tells the story with such passion and immediacy that it is impossible not to be swept away by the absurd, and at times even illegal, nature of the story.

A nice final touch comes in the form of a song that Rowland has been recording over the course of his story. Separate parts are layered together to form a slightly unnecessary musical accompaniment. Rowland’s storytelling is strong enough to stand unaccompanied, and the addition of music provides a charming but confusing distraction. His training as an actor is evident, as he recounts events with an emotional immediacy and spontaneity which makes his ‘true story’ easy to believe.

Whether he is telling us about his father’s funeral, his friend’s cancer diagnosis or breaking the neck of a corpse, Rowland manages to find something absurdly beautiful and moving in the everyday. His language is, in his own words, like someone turned the contrast up. This story made me laugh, it made me cry, and it made me a little bit annoyed when Rowland cast doubt over whether it was true or not. But whether it’s a true story or total fiction, this is an example of modern storytelling at its finest, and certainly one of the more unusual things you will see at the Fringe.

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