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Fisherman’s Friends: The Musical – The Lowry, Salford

Reviewer: Dave Cunningham

Writer: Amanda Whittington

Based on the screenplay from: Nick Moorcroft, Meg Leonard and Piers Ashworth

Director: James Grieve

At times of financial hardship and uncertainty audiences tend to seek out feelgood entertainment; a category which certainly includes Fisherman’s Friends: The Musical.

Washed up music agent Danny (Jason Langley,) is a fish out of water. After attending a posh wedding in the vicinity of Port Isaac in Cornwall he stumbles upon a group of fishermen who supplement their income performing as a rough a cappella group singing traditional sea shanties. Danny believes the group could be a major success and turn around his fortunes but struggles to convince the fishermen; particularly as their leader, Jim (Hadrian Delacey) does not approve of the budding romance between Danny and his daughter Alwyn (Parisa Shahmir).

Although Fisherman’s friends: The Musical is a jukebox musical, in that it uses songs with which the audience is already familiar rather than new material, it does not follow the established formula.  The musical is based upon a true-life story of a band who rose to stardom singing traditional songs in an authentic manner.  Accordingly, rather than follow the usual jukebox format of squeezing in as many songs as possible, even if it means reducing them to just a verse and chorus, the songs are sung in full.

This has the effect of reducing the, admittedly slender, plot to brief snatches of dialogue in between songs. The first act in particular becomes almost a concert, rather than a theatrical performance with the songs sung towards the audience rather than as dialogue between the characters. Matt Cole’s foot-stomping choreography conveys the boozy, raucous mood of a pub at closing time.

Characterisation is sketchy; the men tend to be guarded and hiding their feelings behind banter or be spivs while the women are world-weary yet wise. There is the lingering sense of a closed community, one in which strangers are greeted with suspicion rather than welcomed with open arms.  You can tell Danny is not from the area as he wears sunglasses and a leather jacket and drinks lager. The closest to a convincing couple are Rowan (Dan Buckely) and Sally (Hazel Monaghan) who have inherited the debt-ridden local pub and find, in so doing, they have also taken on the unwanted responsibility for operating the unofficial centre of the community.

Director James Grieve makes clear the significance of authenticity from the opening. A surprisingly sombre sequence of songs sung in the manner for which they are intended – providing a rhythm to which the fishermen work- as a vessel is rocked on a stormy sea of misty dry ice with the cast pulling on heavy ropes. It is hard to dislike a show that opens with a snippet from Radio 4’s ‘’ The Shipping Forecast’’. Grieve also undermines the butch masculine setting of the story with an early introduction of female cast members, in particular the charismatic Parisa Shahmir, joining in the singing.

Grieve makes some allowances for the musical format. Discrete instrumentation is allowed with accordion, bodhrán, cajón and fiddle backing the singers. In a neat in-joke the traditional number “Sailor ain’t a Sailor” segues into The Village People’s ‘’In the Navy’’.

Treating the traditional songs with respect results in an uneven musical in which the plot is regarded as secondary; yet the stirring nature of the tunes and the passion with which they are performed makes for a powerful boisterous production.

Runs until 1 October 2022 then continues on Tour

The Reviews Hub Score

Powerful and boisterous

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The Reviews Hub - North West

The North West team is under the editorship of John Roberts. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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