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Review: Fisherman's Friends the Musical (Tour)


Buoy oh buoy, I really wanted to love Fisherman’s Friends the Musical, but something was just a bit off.

The new musical based on the 2019 film tells the real-life story of a group of Cornish fisherman and how their lives are changed when an ex-music biz monger (an energetic del boy type, played enthusiastically by Jason Langley) hears their port singalong.

Photo by Pamela Raith

James Gaddas leads the group as the cold and closed off Jim. He’s ferocious in attempts to protect the small village community at land and sea, and most of all his daughter Alywyn (Parisa Shahmir), a soulful singer with a salty attitude that ultimately makes her unlikeable.

When the group stand together in a semi-circle, singing popular sea shanties acapella and swinging tins of beer, is when the show is at its best. “John Kanaka” is a particular highlight with dulcet tones lifted by the soft cry of seagulls and the crashing of waves (Dan Samson is the sound designer). The women’s voices are crystalline, almost hypnotic in their soothing. Hazel Monaghan, as Sally, has a pearl of a voice.

They’re joined by a talented group of musicians who surf the stage and move as part of the community. It’s a lovely touch as they sway and laugh along to the friends’ quips. Book writer Amanda Whittington has made these sailors filthy mouthed with handsome voices – though some jokes just hit the rocks and sink.

However, it is possible to have too much of a good thing. With songs a-plenty, the running time racks up and the already thin storyline grows tired. There feels a disconnect between the heart of the story, about music connecting folk, and the stillness of sitting in a dark theatre. Instead of embracing the communal act of performing, the audience are flies on the wall in a very linear story.

Lucy Osborne’s set is beautifully tactile. It is strewn with net, buoys, and ropes, that hug the central parts of the character’s lives – a harbour, the sea, and a local watering hole. They’re washed with warm yellows and blues courtesy of Johanna Town’s light design which also includes effective use of torches to scour the land.

Photo by Pamela Raith

In moments of relief from the static onslaught of songs, there are some memorable moments – we see drunken sailors singing “In the Navy” in a Soho gay bar and the friends giving a comedic television interview that sees the poor anchor (completely accidental nautical reference) fearing her future employment. There’s also drama in a tragic sea accident and the following tender touch to grief. Overall, though, it’s all a bit too safe.

If the sea is in your soul, then you’ll no doubt enjoy a nostalgic trip to the Cornish coast. In landlocked Leicester, Fisherman’s Friends were hitting all the right notes but it didn’t quite get me hook, line and sinker.

Fisherman's Friends plays at Curve, Leicester before continuing on tour


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