There is a lot to enjoy in Tangram Theatre’s Team Viking. As a visitor, you feel instantly welcome into James Rowland’s storytelling world as he gets comfortable before the show. Some (deliberate, I think) awkward pre-show small talk introduces the writer/performer: a huggable, charming man who feels like a cross between Michael McIntyre and Jonny Donahoe (convenient, as Rowland has just taken on Donahoe’s long-term role in the upcoming tour of Duncan Macmillan’s Every Brilliant Thing).
The similarities come from the performer’s physicality, but also from the content of the play he performs. As described lucidly in the official blurb, Team Viking is “the remarkable true story of how James actually gave his best mate the send-off he wanted”. A crisp structure and chatty anecdotal style explain how a tragic illness gave way to an epic, made-for-movies send-off – in the form of a full Viking burial.
Team Viking is fairly simple in its execution: Rowland dims the lights himself, and staggers into a loop-pedal recording of his own indie-folk soundtrack. He is wearing a shabby funeral suit, a plastic Viking helmet sits on a speaker at the back of the stage. The show lives and dies off Rowland’s performance and script – which are both incredibly tight and highly enjoyable.
The actor whizzes through memories of important and anecdotal conversations, his own fears and insecurities, as well as key narrative plot points – giving the tale clear episodes, carefully separated like a well-conceived Netflix mini-series.
This clarity is helpful but, by the time the show ends, its lack of imperfections and James’ effortless ease with the audience backfired somewhat. The characters in Team Viking are larger than life, bold and contrasting personas that add fire, air, earth and water to the story where it’s needed. But almost too well.
A pattern quickly emerges in the storytelling of Team Viking: conversational storytelling about family, friends, Vikings is punctuated with occasional tangents to the audience, and regular musical interludes. It’s clean, controlled and lifted by its one-in-a-million story. You’re never too surprised when the waterworks are due to hit.
But then the final line of the show throws everything into doubt. Personal attachment to the characters and all emotional reactions are being tested. There is an intelligent storytelling twist that adds yet another clever strand to Team Viking.
It was with this that I realised my problem – I absorbed and enjoyed all of the impressive quirks, from the confidence in Rowland’s performance to the clarity in his humour and characters. But somehow in its lack of plot holes, I found an emotional gap.
Team Viking offers undeniable wit and charm, showing off its big heart and talented craft. But in its efforts to cover all areas and provide technical, narrative and fictional satisfaction, it lacked emotional investment.
I left the theatre feeling satisfied from the runaway hit and relatively at ease (many had been sobbing for a good 45 minutes). But unlike many others, as much as I would have wanted to, I felt no different about my opinion on life itself – Team Viking was charming and enjoyable, but ultimately not life-changing.
Team Viking was at Tobacco Factory Theatres on Monday, September 11. For the theatre’s upcoming programme, visit www.tobaccofactorytheatres.com/whats-on
Pic: Alex Brenner
Read more: Preview: Heather, Tobacco Factory Theatres