James Rowland’s monologue, Team Viking, is a natural second act to Liz Rothschild’s Outside The Box, which I had just watched. Both shows highlight the importance and the challenges of giving a loved one the burial they want, but tackle this sensitive subject in completely different ways.
Drawing on a (mostly) true story, the tale starts with his father’s funeral. It’s a huge but slightly soulless affair at which Rowland has given a moving eulogy. We then flash back to the childhood origins of Team Viking – Rowland and his friends Tom and Sarah – who are bound together by their shared love of re-enacting scenes from Kirk Douglas’ 1958 film The Vikings, full of “fighting, quaffing and wenching”. They grow up and continue much along these lines, supporting each other through the ups and downs of life: Tom the fun-loving Lothario, Sarah the organised engineer and James, who plays all the other parts.
Suddenly everything changes when Tom is diagnosed with a rare, aggressive and totally incurable cancer. Primary cardiac angiosarcoma is cancer of the heart muscle – a condition affecting around 0.001 per cent of the population. He’s not quite one in a million, but it’s close. The disease is a death sentence, claiming Tom’s life in a matter of months, and Rowland takes us through the heart-breaking process of watching his best friend slowly fade away knowing there is nothing that can be done.
For his part, Tom is adamant that he wants the kind of funeral they’d play-acted as kids, cast adrift on a burning boat. He achieves it through some fairly spectacular emotional manipulation, leaving Rowland and Sarah to figure out how to actually make it happen. The technicalities of delivering Tom’s big finale are described in fraught, hilarious detail, far removed from Liz Rothschild’s calm explanations of organising a funeral of your choosing and the legal aspects of obtaining a dead body for burial. It’s not an orthodox ending, and some parts of it were technically illegal, but Team Viking is a moving story of friendship, loss, and the importance of giving someone you love the send-off they desire and deserve. (KA)
Team Viking is on at 14:55 at Just The Tonic at the Community Project until August 28th (not 15th). Wheelchair Access, Level Access, Relaxed Performance - https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/team-viking
Dead right – who does a body belong to?: http://www.goodfuneralguide.co.uk/2009/07/dead-right/
Cardiac sarcoma: http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/277297-overview
Macmillan cancer support - at the end of life: http://www.macmillan.org.uk/information-and-support/coping/at-the-end-of-life
Diagnosis of Liz Rothschild’s Fringe show Outside the Box: http://thesickofthefringe.com/week-two/outside-the-box
Death on the Fringe: https://deathonthefringe.wordpress.com/