Amanda Whittington, based on the film Fisherman’s Friends
ROYO Production, with Flying Fish Productions, Mighty Village, Island Records, David Mirvish and Cornwall Playhouse
The Lowry, Salford
September 27-October 1, 2022; 2hr 40min
(also Leeds Grand, Nov 8-19; Sheffield Lyceum Feb 7-11, 2023)
Fisherman’s Friends The Musical is based on the true story of Cornish singing sensations Fisherman’s Friends, and the hit 2019 film about their music-business success.
Fishermen around the world have used shanties to support the communal strength and timing of their work, and the stronger songs have taken on a life of their own, away from the sea and ships.
In this Cornwall fishing village's case the songs were performed for local charities and for community entertainment; then the singers were spotted by a fallen-from-grace Artist & Repertoire man who believed he could help the village tackle some pressing financial problems – as well as claw his way back to the high-life – by signing them to a record contract. It isn’t all plain sailing, of course – it never is. But it’s no spoiler to say all is well by the end.
At a time when theatres are scheduling feelgood, familiar musicals to pull audiences back into their auditoria, this show fits the bill perfectly – with a difference. No glitzy costumes, over-amplified key changes or electric bass here; the traditional songs are largely joyously sung, varyingly familiar and delivered with gusto and sensitivity, giving voice to the enjoyment of harmony, adding beauty to songs that developed, essentially, to improve productivity at work. The rhythm is there, but it wells from a shared endeavour, rather than a computer program.
The onstage band plays traditional instruments and joins in the action, adding to the solid community
feel essential to the lives of fishermen.
The two-tier set, designed by Lucy Osborne, is clever and adaptable, providing a clear space for a small but effective boat which really does appear to be tossing in the waves. This helps to centre the story – the key element being the essential cooperation and instinctive teamwork essential where a group of workers faces danger and relies on each other to stay safe – a message audiences are strongly receptive towards as we emerge from the pandemic.
While there are strong individual performances, the organic teamwork of the cast centres and
empathises this essential features of a Fisherman's production. The story is familiar, the twists and turns largely predictable, but if you want to leave a show with a smile on your face and a good feeling about our ability to handle the difficulties we face, you might enjoy spending an evening with shanty singers in Sou'westers.
More info and tickets here