A Hundred Different Words for Love, VAULT Festival

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by guest critic Michael Davis

“The Sun is just a star…”

Language. Love. Since time immemorial, human beings have been trying to capture in words the essence of this most nuanced of emotions. Fresh from his success with Team Viking at last summer’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival, James Rowland premieres his latest show, A Hundred Different Words For Love at The Vaults. Set within the same universe as Team Viking, Rowland, through anecdotes and music, offers a personal take on the oldest of stories.

Meeting ‘the Girl’ at a mutual friend’s party, this serendipitous moment has long-term ramifications for Rowland. Except he doesn’t just talk about getting to know this person in a linear fashion. Taking an almost omniscient view of relationships and love, Rowland isn’t afraid to jump back and forth in time (or outside the narrative) to connect the dots. It is evident from the examples he gives that the road to true love is seldom straightforward – often beset with false starts, misunderstandings and belated insights.

In tamdem with this storyline, there is the tale of his friend Sarah and her life partner Emma and their emotional journey to getting married. Their story, with Rowland and the Girl’s, squares the circle.

As in any good tale the devil is in the detail, and Rowland’s ability to identify the many little things that one thinks (or at least seen in others) but seldom talk about is what makes his storytelling so rich.

Rowland is the first to point out that as a privileged cisgender male, his experiences are of the most heteronormative, a running joke throughout the show about some people’s narrow definition of love and where it can be found.

However, it’s evident from his friendship with Sarah and Emma, and his self-awareness that he looks at people first as individuals (with gender a distant second…or last) and as one of the themes of the show, that regardless of binary labels, finding lasting love is hard at the best of the times. If one can find lasting love in another human being, that’s something to celebrate.

The litmus test to any love story is how truthful it is and of course Rowland lays a deliberate seed of doubt as to the veracity of the events he has discussed. All I can say is that if the events didn’t transpire as he described, they should have.  His account felt true, describing funny, awkward, messy, tender, life-affirming…love.

A Hundred Different Words For Love runs through 5th February.

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