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A Hundred Different Words for Love review at Vault, London – ‘bittersweet and carefully crafted’

James Rowland in A Hundred Different Words for Love at Vault, London

Storyteller and performer James Rowland describes himself “a child of Richard Curtis.” His debut show, Team Viking, opened with a funeral. His new one ends with a wedding. That first piece, Team Viking, was masterful, heart-pummelling stuff, fusing dark farce with raw emotion in a way that never felt forced (when I saw it, it left its audience a sobbing, red-eyed mess).

Rowland has taken the decision to set his follow-up, A Hundred Different Words for Love, in the same narrative universe. Some of the same characters crop up and the style of presentation is the same. There’s a little bit of tinkly linking music but mostly Rowland just stands there in a suit and tells us a story.

Whereas Team Viking was a piece about death – a kind of shaggy corpse story, if you will – it was also a celebration of friendship. His new piece takes love and its loss as its theme. It’s an examination of the reasons why relationships fail. Perhaps because this is more familiar terrain, the arc of the piece – the relationship that flairs then fads – is more conventional and Rowland’s negotiation of the sentimental feels less sure-handed; occasionally he seems to be straining for emotional notes he hit with more grace and ease in Viking.

The writing kicks up a gear when he opens the piece out to include other characters – the wedding strand of the story in which the protagonist’s best mate marries her girlfriend is beautifully written and delivered.

As a performer Rowland, working again with director Daniel Goldman, remains completely in control of his material. He knows how to work an audience, how to make each pause count, each line fly. It’s at its strongest when its hymning the depth and strength of the love that can exist between friends.

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Bittersweet and carefully crafted storytelling theatre about love, loss and friendship