Please note that I saw this production whilst it was in previews on Saturday 16th October 2021, the show officially opened on Monday 18th October 2021.
They were salt of the earth Cornish fisherman, who loved nothing more than an evening in their local pub in the fishing village of Port Isaac, celebrating friendship and singing old sea shanties, but a change meeting sends them down a path towards a level of fame they could have never expected. Based on the film (2019) which is in turn loosely based around the true life story of Port Issac’s famous folk band ‘The Fisherman’s Friends’, this brand new stage musical adaptation brings sea shanties to the stage in a show that boasts wholesomeness, heart and comedy.
For a story that celebrates Cornish culture and the sea shanties that Cornish sailors and Fishermen have been singing for countless years, it was only right for ‘Fisherman’s Friends the Musical’ to premiere at Truro’s beautifully refurbished Hall for Cornwall. In a full house, this preview performance raised both spirits and the rafters as we were introduced to a plethora of characters and their story of sea shanties and family.
We are introduced to the fishermen of Port Isaac, from family patriarch Jago (Robert Duncan) and his stoic son Jim (Deka Walmsley) to new father Rowen (Dan Buckley) who is struggling to his keep his family business afloat. With their friends and family around them, they fish, sing and try to make ends meet. When visiting the village for the wedding of an acquaintance, music industry executive Danny (Calum Callaghan) sees the group singing, he declares that their music deserves to be heard by a wider audience than the gathered locals and states that he can help them share it with the world. With most of the group more than willing to give it go, it’s up to Danny to convince the not so sure Jim that they have nothing to lose whilst trying to win the heart of Jim’s daughter Alwyn (Parisa Shahmir).
Featuring many a sea shanty, including ‘Nelson’s Blood’, ‘Drunken Sailor’, ‘John Kanaka’, ‘Little Liz (I Love You)’, ‘Sailor Ain’t A Sailor’ and ‘Home From The Sea’, this is a show packed full with music with each scene change accompanied by the on stage band who join in with the action throughout. The cast seamlessly perform shanty after shanty mostly a cappella.
Callaghan’s Danny is the lovable down on his luck underdog, a bit of a cheeky chappy who tries his best to live a glass half full life who always has the best intentions. Robert Duncan’s Jago sees the opportunity to share their music as a fond farewell to his fisherman days whilst Deka Walmsley’s Jim isn’t so sure. Dan Buckley’s Rowan sees it as a chance for fun and a chance to perhaps save his family business whilst their fellow fishermen Leadville (Mensah Bediako), Ben (Edward Rowe), Dinger (Rakesh Boury), Archie (Hadrian Delacey) and Wiggie (Matt Slack) are all for it and Parisa Shahmir’s Alwyn is trying to stop her grandmother Maggie (Susie Blake) from boasting of her grand daughter’s musical talents to the visiting music executive. Each character is lovable, believable and has their own story to tell.
Lucy Osborne’s clever set encompasses the look of a sea wall walkway and a cosy village pub all in one, with a stage that doubles of a fishing vessel. Light up buoys hang from the walkway with lobster pots used to set the scene throughout. Johanna Town’s lighting design is incredibly effective at setting the scene, creating a London bar one moment and a dramatic fishing scene the next. Amanda Whittington’s book blends heartfelt moments expertly with comedy, highlighting the importance of knowing that there are two sides to every story. It is easy to become drawn into the story of these Fishermen, their music and how they don’t go looking for fame, it is more about preserving the history and tradition of the shanties themselves.
Playing at the Hall for Cornwall until October 30th, and with its sights already set on the glittering lights of the West End, Fisherman’s Friends the Musical raises spirits with its seafaring tales of friendship, family and music. Much like the career of the band that inspired it, I imagine that this musical will go from strength to strength. The music is timeless and the story has something that everyone can relate to, be that a drive to stay true to family and tradition or a drive to strive for bigger and better things. A production that will leave you both with a smile on your face and a shanty in your heart.
Images found via Google, not my own