FeaturedMusicalReviewSouth East

Fisherman’s Friends: The Musical – Theatre Royal, Brighton

Reviewer: Lela Tredwell

Book Writer: Amanda Whittington
Director: James Grieve

The world premiere production of Fisherman’s Friends: The Musical comes to Brighton bringing with it the full force of its stunning sound and energetic choreography. Based on the book, and 2019 film, this production is a feel-good feast of extraordinary musical talent, inspired by the true story of a group of fishermen, farmers, builders and shopkeepers from Cornwall who landed a record deal, and whose journey saw them perform on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury.

The show opens with the stirring scene of a life-sized boat being knocked about by a rough sea. The dangers of the fisherman’s way of life are strikingly portrayed, supported on the stage by brilliant lighting and sound design. We see in these early moments how singing provides a comfort to these men as they navigate the unpredictable elements. It’s the perfect set up; from here the action flows hypnotically as we are told the story of the humble, endearing band members from their beginnings singing at the Golden Lion pub, to being persuaded to record their songs, to going viral, to securing their record deal.

With the band’s story also comes a fascinating introduction to Cornish tradition and folklore. If you enjoy a sea shanty, you’ll love the performance, with some songs dating back 200 years. But with 37 musical numbers, influences from other genres of music are also playfully woven into the mix, along with some stunning contemporary songs of the sea. The vocals are extraordinary and it is well worth seeing this production for its beautiful sounds alone. Parisa Shahmir has a particularly mesmerizing voice. She plays Alwyn, the daughter of band leader Jim (James Gaddas), and the songs she leads are haunting in every best sense of the word.

The emotional depth to the story does seem a little limited in the first half but the feels here come more from the music than the characters which suits the themes of this production. Ultimately this is really a musical of place and how that place is deeply woven into the people who live there. The multi-level set, designed to represent Port Isaac, provides the perfect aesthetic as well as an excellent way of showing different spaces around the village, including inside the pub and by the dockside.

The second half of the show sees a shift from the joviality and quick wit of the first, as we dive further into the lives of the Cornish community. A beautiful scene between grandmother Maggie (played in this performance by Janet Mooney), Alwyn (Shahmir) and new mother Sally (Hazel Monaghan) could, arguably, come earlier in the show but it also echoes the lives of Cornish women waiting for their menfolk to return from the sea. At this particular time, their menfolk are in fact in London, playing out a thoroughly fun scene in a gay bar. Another heartfelt moment is skilfully created by Robert Duncan, playing Jago, where we hear more about his relationship to the sea through the setting to music of Sea Feaver, a poem by John Masefield.

It is hard not to be won over by the men of the Fisherman’s Friends band, and knowing the tragic loss they suffered in real life after this part of their story ends makes the production all the more poignant, but the part of their story this production focuses on makes for an uplifting experience. “Truth, respect and community,” are of the highest values to them. Recording their traditional songs for legacy is the driving force of their aims. In a world saturated with rags to riches, deprivation to diva stories, we can turn to this tale of the Fisherman’s Friends for a different take. Alwyn [Shahmir] refreshingly sticks to her own strong beliefs that her singing is for her community. She demonstrates how her home is woven into the fabric of everything she is and that she is enough without fame or the draw of the city.

After a tragic accident, Jim [James Gaddas] confides in his daughter that singing enables him to express the emotions he can’t say. In turn, this production succeeds at creating a powerful tribute to the importance of song, how it shapes people and how it bonds a community. With exceptional performances from the whole cast, including seven incredibly versatile folk musicians, Fishermen’s Friends: The Musical is a stunning production and a must see.

Runs to the 11th March.

The Reviews Hub Score

Mesmerising Must See

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