With a loop pedal and a slightly shattered heart, James Rowland stands alone onstage. He wears scuffed trainers, odd socks and a viking helmet. Paddling his way through our emotions, he tells us an extraordinary tale of grief, robbery and Christmas pudding.
Growing up, Rowland used to play vikings with his best friends Tom and Sarah. That childish delight never really disappeared from their friendship, so when Tom is diagnosed with incurable heart cancer, it is only fitting that he asks his two best friends to give him a properly spectacular ending: a viking funeral.
It’s funny how much someone can make you care about another person just through words and a few bad jokes. As Rowland describes Tom’s devastating deterioration, humour and sadness jolt through each other like an electric shock passing through water.
The way Rowland carves this story is at once beautifully groomed and wonderfully raggedy. His style of speech is causal and tangential, yet each strand of story is carefully gathered together and tied neatly, providing such a sense of catharsis, with layer upon layer of emotion offering us a full, thick fabric of a life. A loop-pedalled song divides the piece up, providing a respite to let the words settle, and Rowland’s slightly scratchy voice that sounds as if he’s had a pint before the show only serves to make it more charming. This play simply swells.
Team Viking is about grief and friendship. But within its humility and simplicity it holds so much more. It is anger for the things that weren’t good enough. It is joy for the little moments that make up existence. It is the look passed between friends when someone says something you’re too polite to outwardly react to, but you both think is utterly ridiculous. It is the joy of gathering with a group of strangers and sharing a story. It is the innocence of a child and the awkwardness of a teen. It is the awful urge to laugh in a tragic situation. It is fiction being better than real life. It is the excruciating faults of humans. It is the pain of living and the unfairness of death. It is wanting to be remembered after you are gone. It is the details you add to make a better ending. It is, I reckon, a little bit golden.
I watched Team Viking sitting next to one of my best friends. At the most overwhelming point of the show, when my face wasn’t so much streaming with tears but rather had itself become a puddle, he gently touched my arm, just to say that he was there. I put my hand on his knee, to say thank you. I think that’s what this play is about.