Review: Revelations (Summerhall, Edinburgh Fringe)
James Rowland presents the final instalment of his trilogy which started with Team Viking
With its four horsemen and seven trumpets, the Book of Revelation should not be read literally. The same goes for James Rowland's Revelations, a final chapter of a very different sort. It might describe something akin to the end of the world, but anyone familiar with this shaggy dog storyteller will know by now not to take his word as gospel.
Rowland tends to toy with the truth, twisting autobiographical anecdotes into improbable fiction. Team Viking, the first of what would become a trilogy, recounted an attempt to give his best mate a flaming Norse send-off. A Hundred Different Words for Love served up a romance to rival Richard Curtis. His tales are just too tall to be true, but you're never sure where the lie lies. Rowland, effectively, hides in plain sight, revealing his real self without giving the game away.
So when he talks us through donating his sperm to his friends Emma and Sarah, his story may or may not contain some seed of truth. It's quite possible to believe this shambling manchild would become puppyishly excited at the prospect of fatherhood, throwing himself into maternity textbooks and flatpack cots, just as it's possible to picture him handing over a little white pot with a misjudged wisecrack.
Beneath the blustering beardy exterior, Rowland's a massive, doleful, blue-eyed softie – a big dollop of masculine sentimentality – and it's almost impossible not to buy into his big-hearted, clear-sighted account even as it occasionally beggars belief.
Yet Revelations is also a story about losing faith. As a child, Rowland prayed nightly to keep his friends safe, only for scepticism to set in as adulthood approached. Christianity, after all, doesn't always look kindly on masturbation, homosexuality or assisted fertilization. Some denominations even rule out life-saving blood transfusions.
Effectively, Rowland's searching for alternative faith. He structures his shows like church services, intercutting sermons and stories with songs. As a performer, his warmth turns crowds into congregations and, even if Revelations can feel calculated – too determined to tug heartstrings and warm hearts – it contains a few life lessons of its own.
Now it's complete, his trilogy turns out to be about friendship. Bookended by death, it's really about life, skipping through marriages and births, adolescence and adulthood. Rowland wants us to reflect on how we fill our brief time and, more importantly, who we fill them with. It may not be literal, but it's full of truth.