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Fisherman’s Friends – The Musical at Theatre Royal Brighton

Fisherman’s Friends, the musical, has exploded onto the stage at Brighton! Very few, if any, musicals start with an acapella choir of men of a ‘certain age’ belting out a sea shanty that immediately blows the cobwebs off the theatre and audience by its communicative power – and so it continues, as this is a show which contains 32 musical numbers, nearly all Cornish folk songs or sea shanties, leaving little room for dialogue, especially in Act One, as everyone is blown along by the singing and enthusiastic dancing. Some of the songs, especially in the second half, are more reflective but all are superbly sung and, where necessary, accompanied by an onstage 8-piece band under James Williams-Pattison, which includes mandolin, a superbly played concertina (John O’Mahony) and Beccy Hurst on the Penny Whistle.

Fisherman’s Friends: The Musical
Fisherman’s Friends: The Musical

The plot is based on the real-life story and two movies about the group of fishermen and lifeboatmen of Port Isaac who had been singing together for twenty-five years in aid of charity, when they were “discovered” by a record producer, their first album jumping straight into the Top Ten and an appearance at the Glastonbury Festival.

Amanda Whittington’s (“Be My Baby”) book is obviously a romanticised account of the group, their lives and loves, but is just what is needed, even if the plot is fairly predictable and the characters stereotyped – this is ‘feel-good’ entertainment, and none the worse for that!!

The cast of twenty is a true ensemble one and includes James Gaddas as Jim, the cynical leader of the Friends, demonstrating amazing energy besides possessing a fine singing voice. His wife, Maggie is allowed one song in Act Two, superbly put over by Janet Mooney and his father is played by Robert Duncan, very believable in his role and also possessing a fine voice.

The interloper, failed ‘record producer’ Danny, is Jason Langley, suitably irritating at first, but growing into the role until he becomes the real ‘hero’ by the end, but I won’t spoil the denouement for those who have not seen the films!

The whole cast are masters in communicating their enjoyment of what they are doing to the audience, which in turn responds enthusiastically, or certainly did at Brighton. You could almost sense the audience waiting for the next musical number to be declaimed powerfully and danced superbly, the entire show running like clockwork. Much credit here is due to the director, James Grieve, who never allows the pace to flag: there is still energy even when there is a more reflective scene, of which there are several in Act Two. The clever single, multi-level set is the work of Lucy Osborne and the sensible lighting design ( I e allowing us to see actors’ faces and expressions!) is by Johanna Town. Simple yet athletic choreography, always allowing the cast to concentrate on singing and playing, is by Matt Cole.

This wonderful, unusual, life-affirming, hugely enjoyable show is touring throughout 2023. If you do not manage to see it at Brighton it is in London for a week in May at ATG’s New Wimbledon Theatre, as well as, later in the year, Toronto, but if you like a musical that’s just a bit different, do try to see it somewhere!!! Very highly recommended!

5 Star Rating

Review by John Groves

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

Theatre Royal Brighton
Until Sat 11 Mar 2023

New Theatre Oxford
Tue 14 Mar – Sat 18 Mar 2023

Princess Theatre, Torquay
Tue 4 Apr – Sat 8 Apr 2023

Bristol Hippodrome
Wed 3 May – Sat 6 May 2023

King’s Theatre, Glasgow
Tue 9 May – Sat 13 May 2023

New Wimbledon Theatre
Tue 16 May – Sat 20 May 2023

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  • John Groves

    John Groves studied singing with Robert Easton and conducting with Clive Timms. He was lucky enough to act in the British premiere of a Strindberg play at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe more years ago than he cares to remember, as well as singing at the Royal Opera House - once! He taught drama and music at several schools, as well as examining the practical aspects of GCSE and A level drama for many years. For twenty five years he has conducted a brass band as well as living on one of the highest points of East Sussex surrounded by woodland, deer, foxes and badgers, with kites and buzzards flying overhead.

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