As you enter the auditorium of the New Wimbledon Theatre, you hear the sound of seagulls as Fisherman’s Friends The Musical is set in Cornwall in the little fishing village of Port Isaac. Luckily these are only sound effects as if they’d been real seagulls, they’d be swooping down on the buckets of popcorn being consumed by some of the audience (don’t think they were fish flavour though). As an aside why do theatres serve giant buckets of noisy, smelly popcorn?
As for the show itself, it’s based on a true story of a group of local fishermen who sing sea-shanties locally, who got signed to a record deal with Universal Music, supposedly in a £1 million deal and their albums went on to sell in large quantities, making the charts and led to the group appearing at Glastonbury. There then followed a BBC TV documentary and two films and now comes Fisherman’s Friends The Musical ensuring the legend of the group (who were named after the throat lozenges) carries on.
To call it a musical is a bit of a misnomer as it’s more of a play with music. There are of course lots of songs, something like thirty of them but the majority of them are traditional sea shanties with only the occasional contemporary song added to fit the narrative.
As for the story itself, the group are discovered by a London record business executive who sees the potential of recording them and getting them a record deal. He has to convince not only the sceptical fishermen but also the boss of the record label he wants to get to sign them. That’s basically the plot although along the way there is a subplot about the financial problems the local pub is having and of course the obligatory love story of the local girl and the lovable rogue record business executive who’s a fish out of water.
The stars are of course the fishermen who get to sing the shanties. They’re a group of rough diamonds and there’s plenty of ribald, Cornish fishermen humour as they argue amongst themselves as to whether this is a good idea or not. Finally, they commit and are taken up to London where left to their own devices, they end up in Soho where there’s a slightly off-colour, clichéd scene where they end up in a gay bar in Old Compton Street and chaos ensues.
The set is a fairly simple one being mainly set in the Golden Lion, the local pub, the foreshore of Port Isaac and Soho amongst other places so at times it’s left up to audiences’ imagination as to where they are. The best and most dramatic moments are when the fisherman’s boat goes to sea and you really feel the swell of the waves – not sure how that affected the people eating the popcorn.
The large ensemble cast (too many to name here) are made up of actors and actor/musicians and they mesh superbly giving the show lots of energy. One of the joys of the production is the acoustic instrumentation, a trend to be seen recently in shows such as Come From Away, Girl From The North Country and Once. The only problem with this production is that whilst the instruments are acoustic, they’re over-amplified as are the singers and the show opens to a blast of music which just doesn’t fit with the ethos of the story. It did seem to quieten down a little but at times it was all too loud. Another small criticism is that one or two of the actors need to dial their performances down a little. There’s a certain amount of overacting and gurning and once again this went against the essence of the gentle, very English story.
Fisherman’s Friends The Musical is an enjoyable show that doesn’t tax the old grey matter too much. It’s a simple story, simply told and there’s no doubt that the audience in Wimbledon last night loved it. The music is fun and entraining although there are an awful lot of sea-shanties. However, if that sounds like your kind of thing, then Fisherman’s Friends The Musical is the show for you.
Review by Alan Fitter
The true story of the Cornish chart-topping buoy band
Based on the true story of the chart-topping Cornish singing sensations and their hit 2019 movie, Fisherman’s Friends: The Musical is a feel-good voyage about friendship, community and music which smashed box office records in Cornwall.
When a group of Cornish fishermen came together to sing the traditional working songs they’d sung for generations, nobody, least of all the fishermen, expected the story to end on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury. They are spotted by a fish-out-of-water music manager on a trip from London, who must learn that there is more to life than selling your sole for fifteen minutes of fame.
A star cast includes James Gaddas (Coronation Street, Billy Elliot the Musical), Parisa Shahmir (Mamma Mia!), Robert Duncan (Drop the Dead Donkey) and Susan Penhaligon (Bouquet of Barbed Wire).
So, climb aboard, find your sea legs and allow yourself to fall for this critically acclaimed musical – hook, line and sinker!
Book by Amanda Whittington
Based on the Screenplay by Nick Moorcroft, Meg Leonard, Piers Ashworth
Directed by James Grieve
New Wimbledon Theatre Tickets
Until Sat 20 May 2023
Jane Little says
Absolutely thrilling show. Lived the music. So ch talented musicians and singers. My feet and body were moving to the best the whole way through. Over too quickly! Thank you