Team Viking: How Very Norse

Last week saw us wandering down the road to a local church/chapel kind of affair that’s used as a community hall and periodically hosts events.

The local art society had arranged a performance by James Rowland as part of his Team Viking show tour, and we’re not in the business of not seeing Viking stuff.

Except Vikings. For some reason we never got around to Vikings, and I don’t really know why. Seems an odd inconsistency, but there it is.

Still, Team Viking is a one-man narrative performance. The telling of a story. No effects, no fancy lighting. No music, bar one song the performer built up himself, layer by layer, bit by occasional bit, on a loop machine over the 60-odd minutes of the show.

A promotional image of James Rowland, standing knee-deep in what looks like the Thames, holding a bouquet of flowers that's on fire, and wearing a plastic Viking helmet with oversized horns on it.
(Image nicked off James Rowlands’ Twitter.)

But mostly it’s just James, talking, engagingly, movingly, and frequently hilariously about the time his lifelong friend Tom died of primary cardiac angiosarcoma. Heart cancer. Fast, aggressive and ludicrously lethal.

Wait… “Hilariously“, though?

Yes. Bizarrely enough. I admit when Suzanne first suggested we go see this show I was doubtful. I don’t deal well with death and illness, and sad stuff in general, and although the blurb for the show highlighted the humour, I couldn’t see how anything dealing with those subjects — especially that kind of illness — could possibly be anything other than hopelessly miserable. This is how we know I’m emotionally maladjusted.

Anyway, such thoughts scare me and, despite being Solstice Court through and through, my usual approach is very Spring: I prefer to avoid thinking about ‘bad stuff’ and concentrate on happy things instead. I am, as anyone who knows me will attest, very very bad at this. I am basically an emo Goth at heart, though too ungraceful and too brick-like to pull off the requisite vampire-adjacent look.

“Happy thoughts.”

I settled down in the hall fairly convinced I’d have to try to tune out pretty early into the show. I didn’t. James hooked my attention immediately with his comfortably casual and informal style, as he explained how his performance was going to work. There was no set. His only props were a mic and the aforementioned loop machine, and one plastic ‘Viking helmet’ with obligatory pop-culture horns on it (thankfully, this was lanterned later, and he did point out that it had no historical basis at all).

The story began at the funeral of James’ dad. James is supported by friend Tom and Sarah, whom he’d known since childhood, when they would play make-believe Viking games, based on the 1958 film The Vikings. Out for drinks one night after the funeral Tom — at the time apparently entirely healthy — announces that when his time eventually comes, he would want a full Viking funeral, with his body being burned in a boat.

Basically to shut him up, and assuming — as anyone would at that age — that the day in question was a long way off, they agreed. But when Tom is diagnosed with his illness and given just a matter of weeks to live, he reminds them of their promise. And when he dies they’re faced with the question of whether, and how, to honour his request.

It’s 65 minutes of absolute emotional upheaval. It’s fun, fear, grief, laughter, shock, hope, love, confusion and ridiculousness. And the regular feeling of slight unease about whether I really should have been laughing or not.

But, on reflection, I think I should. In fact, as James wrapped up his story, I couldn’t help but think how absolutely Viking, how very Norse, it all actually was. Not necessarily because of the overt Viking theme; not even because of his initial rather surprising invocation of Odin, as Lord of Stories, to watch over his performance. It was the way it presented death, as something that, while it hurts us and robs us and threatens us, can and should be laughed at, or at least smiled at.

Or assaulted, if you’re so inclined, Dave.

An image of General Maximus Decimus Meridius, played by Russell Crowe, from the 2000 movie 'Gladiator'.
“All a man can do is smile back.”
A screenshot of Arya Stark, played by Maisie Williams, in the HBO TV series 'Game of Thrones'.
“Not today.”
A promotional image of Dave Lister, played by Craig Charles, in the BBC TV sitcom 'Red Dwarf'.
“If he comes near me I’m going to rip his nipples off.”

I’m still frightened of it. Conscience doth make a coward of me, there’s no doubt of that at all. But for the hour or so of the Team Viking show, I slowly gained a little insight – just a little – into how even death can be rendered absurd enough to be funny, and how there’s no situation so bleak that it can’t be made more manageable with good friends, a measure of pluck and a rental van.

Just watch out for CCTV, ‘kay?

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