Fisherman’s Friends: The Musical is based on the true story of the chart-topping Cornish shanty-singing sensations and their hit 2019 film.
Tuesday night’s opening performance at Birmingham’s Alexandra Theatre was a full house, populated with a mostly mature crowd. After one minute’s silence in memory of Queen Elizabeth, the lights dim and we hear the faint sounds of seagulls and waves crashing. We are then instantly engulfed in waves of colour and sound, with what seems to be the full cast on stage or aboard the rocking boat in the centre, of course, straight into a booming shanty, “Nelson’s Blood”.
“Oh, a bottle of rum wouldn’t do us any harm
A bottle of rum wouldn’t do us any harm”
My sentiments exactly, let’s face it, they had me at rum..
The story is a very upbeat one generally, of a close knit community of fishermen who meet up to sing sea shanties, sometimes over a beer in their beloved Golden Lion, sometimes raising funds for local charities, and of course, when they are out fishing. Due to a chance visit from a fish-out-of-water Londoner called ‘Danny’. Danny is a former music mogul, played convincingly by Jason Langley. Hilarity ensues and eventually they record a demo and reach a level of stardom they never could have imagined.
I keep catching myself grinning widely throughout what really is a richly joyful experience.
However, now that sea shanties have been tick-tocked, youtubed and parodied to a level beyond reason, I wasn’t sure if they would have much of an impact. I was pleasantly surprised, the shanty songs had such raw visceral quality, and the cast sang them as emphatically, as I like to wistfully imagine, that they were all those centuries ago.
I’m not always a fan of musicals where the songs are constant, with less dialogue, however, these are Cornish folk songs, stories and best of all, they sound great, something about the earthy male harmonies combining is really emotive. I keep catching myself grinning widely throughout what really is a richly joyful experience. The stories themselves are classic and curious, combined with the harmonies and delivery, the appeal is undeniable. There is a love story at the centre of it all, which fortunately manages to stay mainly on the comedy side of rom-com. A lot of the main focus throughout is on friendship and community, and who doesn’t like that eh?
As well as the shanties, there are some other songs, of note a passionate performance from Parisa Shamir who plays “Alwyn” on ‘The Tidal Pool’. I don’t want to give any spoilers but this is a particularly spine-tingly moment done really well.
The rest of the players are made up of a collection of familiar faces, and whilst all give really stirring performances (seriously, a talented bunch!), James Gaddas, in particular, really seemed to have got under the skin of the proud Cornish fisherman he was portraying. He plays ‘Jim’ , the de facto leader of the Fisherman’s Friends group, father to ‘Alwyn’ and an important figure in the local community.
‘Fisherman’s Friends’ is a great way to lift your spirits, with beautiful singing, colourful scenery and costumes, powerful performances and shanty songs you’ll never forget!
Words by Mazzy Snape Director breadbirmingham.co.uk