If you enjoy stand-up comedy that is more than a stack of one-liner’s, you’ll love this show. If you are looking for a theatrical event that makes you laugh, flinch and may even make you cry, then you’ll want to see this performer. And if you’re yet to go along and see something from the 2019 Brisbane Festival, then I’d suggest you book a ticket to see James Rowland’s Team Viking. Don’t worry if it’s sold out; try at least one of the other two shows in this Songs of Friendship ‘storytelling cycle’ (Songs of Friendship comprises Team VikingA Hundred Different Words for Love, and Revelations).

The premise is deceptively simple: a man dressed in slightly-shabby funeral attire walks into a theatre, decides to do all of his own technical support, uses his favourite Casio keyboard to set up a looping soundtrack, and addresses the thorny question of just “what do you say when a friend tells you they have 3 months to live. And they want a Viking burial?”

And as with William Blakes’s Songs of Innocence and Experience, the style may be simple, funny and direct; but the show is carefully crafted, the language is beautifully chosen, and the ideas explored go to the heart of what friendship is. As with the musical ‘interludes’ (each chapter is punctuated with a slowly-building musical loop), the layers of the story are laid down with meticulous care. The 2019 Brisbane Festival hosted the Australian premiere of Team Viking, but this is a show which has already received rave reviews at the Edinburgh Fringe, and been finely-tuned through many hundreds of performances.

At the end of the 70-minute opening night show, we came away feeling as if we’d listened to the revelations of a new friend, and wondering if any of it was true. Rowland had introduced us to his two best friends, and shared some very funny memories of their time growing up together and of his family (wait until you see the Parkinson’s Christmas Pudding sketch). Of course it wasn’t all funny. At one point, the opening night audience was so wrapped-up in the tale, that many literally flinched on hearing one memory of loading the van. Not everyone in the stories lives, and Rowland is painfully honest as to how he didn’t always cope very well with the challenges that life threw at him.

Assuming this is Rowland’s personal story, of course. After all, this is a show that has a director (Daniel Goldman) and tour manager (Tom Hall)—and comes from the Tangram Theatre Company (which is ‘dedicated to creating theatre that breaks the fourth wall in order to tell life-affirming stories full of hope’, and has so far produced 15 shows). But then it doesn’t matter if this is all true or not. Rowland (as performer and writer) and his colleagues have produced a truly memorable and enjoyable show.

Don’t miss Team Viking because you’ve heard that the stories focus on dying, death and funerals. The show is also about love, friendship, and the everyday. Which is why I am strongly recommending it to everyone I know.

Verdict: Virtuoso performance of a beautifully-crafted (and often very funny) tale of love, friendship and death. Don’t miss it.

Audience tip: Aim for the first four rows, and arrive early enough to avoid the lockout. Warnings: 13+ (some coarse language, sexual references and adult themes), and Lynx is sprayed at the start of the Show (away from any asthmatics). The 70-minute show is one third of the Songs of Friendship storytelling cycle. Only 3 performances of Team Viking during the 2019 Brisbane Festival (10 & 11September 7:00pm, plus 14 September 5:30pm). The complete cycle is performed on 14th September 2019. Team Viking tickets are $32-35 (plus booking fee).

Catherine Lawrence

The reviewer attended the opening night performance (7pm, Tuesday 10 September 2019).

Pictures Credit: Creative Futures Photography

Pictures Credit: Creative Futures Photography