Review: Fisherman’s Friends The Musical (Touring)

Wednesday 9th November 2022 at Leeds Grand Theatre.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

If you’re a fan of any kind of foot stomping, roof raising, mood lifting choral singing, you’ll love Fisherman’s Friends The Musical. Packed to the gunnels with snatches or full length ditties and sea shanties, this show offers a two in one: an engaging story of love and loss and a folk concert as it brings the story and the music of Cornwall’s Fisherman’s Friends to the stage.

So, what’s it all about? Why, fishermen who sing of course! A bunch of rugged, jovial fishermen quite happily sing their evenings away at the local pub. It’s not until Danny the London lad arrives that this close-knit little town gets shaken up by the idea of the world outside being interested in their traditions and talents… and so it comes to be that the Londoner discovers the sea shanty for the first time: Sea shanties, used for centuries to rally sailors through tempests and plain sailing alike, making light work of rope hauling and anchor dropping so spirits wouldn’t dip to low tide. And his little know-it-all mind? Blown.

Under direction of James Grieve, James Gaddas takes the helm as Jim, the steadfast boss whose voice of reason is at intervals undercut by emotions he refuses to engage with. Jason Langley captures the Londoner out “in the sticks” brilliantly as Danny – all swagger and gusto and a little too ready with the cheeky jibes. And who does Danny get gooey-eyed for but the stern boss man’s daughter? Of course! And as Alwyn, Parisa Shahmir is a rare talent: the kind of voice to stop you in your tracks but also the acting chops to meet the emotional kaleidoscope she crafts through song.

Top comic performances include Susan Penhaligon’s straight-talking, meddling grandma Maggie, Fia Houston-Hamilton’s chronically unimpressed London Exec type, Hadrian Delacey’s cheeky one-liner loving Archie, and Pete Gallagher’s playful Leadville, who is at all times the most enthusiastic of the fisherman when it comes to shanty show-time. And while the beauty of voices joined together in song is at the heart of this show, there are some vocalists of particular note, including Hazel Monaghan’s angsty vocals very nicely capturing the frustrations of life as a young mum, and Dominic Brewer, whose rich vocals elevate the many harmonies at work.

It’s when we’re briefly taken to sea that Johanna Town’s dramatic lighting design and Lucy Osborne’s clever set design comes into play as the menfolk brave the not-so-calm waves with some well executed stage design backing them up. David White’s musical arrangements allows for both pounding songs from a live and lively on-stage band (and at intervals joined by foot stomping choreography from Matt Cole) but also the purer sounds of a capella or acoustic.

There’s more song than script to be found here, though the Book by Amanda Whittington (based on the screenplay by Nick Moorcroft, Meg Leonard and Piers Ashworth) manages to pack in a fair few good jokes and heartfelt details – after all, what’s a musical without a little woe to make the sparkier moments shine all the brighter? But the songs are plentiful and showcase the ridiculous stamina of this cast – and the music is so well embedded that when a period time passes without the call and response of singing voices, we feel a bit, well, all at sea!

Despite the dramas and ups and downs of the plot, this is a very happy show and the cast give that rare impression of loving every minute. If you’re a fan of sea shanties specifically or folk music more broadly, you’re in for a treat with this show.

Fisherman’s Friends The Musical plays Leeds Grand Theatre until November 19th 2022 – you can find more information and tickets here.

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