Brighton Fringe 2023
His parents may not approve, but Tom Draper has given up the day job as a Viking for a stab at theatre. Here are his life lessons to date, written with verve, performed with gusto, powered by slide-show. Haunted by Sean Bean, glowered over by Suella Braverman; it’s enough to make anyone question their future while digging up the past.
Is it real, this thing we call theatre, sitting together in the dark, watching, listening to someone spin us a yarn? Or is it, like the excavations of Viking York on view underneath the glass floor, a replica, a simulacrum of a life? Tom Draper’s entertaining story of his time as a guide at Jorvik Viking Centre where “Is it real?” is a frequently asked question, has a philosophical through-line. He’s a fresh-faced graduate with a history degree in need of a job and this is as good a fit as he’ll get.
With just five shows under his belt (alongside the drinking horn and knitted purse around his tunic) Tom gives an assured performance of his quest to discover who he really is and what he wants to be. He’s turned down an opportunity for advancement, his friends are earning big money, he lacks direction and the rent. By pretending to be “No, not an 8th century Anglo-Saxon, a 10th century Viking” he gets to meet with people from all walks of life and make a show he might take to Edinburgh. He’s totally aware of his shortcomings for the job; he’s not very tall and the only beard he can grow is a ginger goatee which makes him look “less old Norse, more old nonce.”
Customers do ask stupid questions and are seldom right, but Tom’s rage at them seems engineered for comic effect and at odds with his affable persona. An exception being the man who insists the voice over is by Sean Bean, is affronted that it isn’t, but actually hates the man growling “I despise the Bean.” The audience might have provided interesting questions or answered his; with time more interaction would add some risk and even laughs at our expense.
The anger is better directed at Alexander Armstrong, a presenter during Tom’s go as a contestant on Pointless (he loses). ‘Zander’ is imagined as a dreaded Anglo-Saxon king burning piles of old tenners.
Tom seems out of luck. In trying to escape the middle-class trajectory his parents his parents would approve he is adrift, and it’s touching that a moment of realisation comes when he’s alone in a boat on the Jorvik ride with only mannequins for company. Money is a false god, humanity matters.
Today’s 23 year olds face different problems from their Viking forbears but Tom is no less a warrior in making the precarious performing arts a career choice. While an overlong diversion about gameshows pulls focus, Viking 9-5 certainly shows promise. Good luck, mate. Keep it real.