Review by Daz Gale
The story of Fisherman’s Friends took the UK by storm when their first album charted in 2010.. Their story has since been adapted into an acclaimed film (and a sequel) and now it’s the turn of a brand new stage musical, currently playing to audiences all over the UK. This week it headed into Richmond and after hearing nothing but praise for this heart-warming story, I knew I had to go fishing for myself. The question was would I like what I sea or shan’t-I have bothered?
Fisherman’s Friends is inspired by the true story of the folk music group from Port Isaac and their unexpected rise to fame which saw them troubling the charts and even playing Glastonbury. Taking some fictional elements from the film, the story sees disgraced musicpromoter Danny stumble upon them and become determined to make them the next big thing… all while falling in love with one of the groups daughters, of course.
In keeping with the music the group are known for, Fisherman’s Friends boasts a collection of sea shanties. These seemingly timeless numbers saw a recent rise in fame thanks to the success of ‘Wellerman’ (itself present here in an excerpt used as a fantastic joke). If these may not be the kind of songs you listen to every day, you may surprise yourself with how much you fall in love with them. I certainly did. The fact they are performed so eloquently and exquisitely adds to the charm of these numbers and you may find yourself utterly enchanted by the angelic sounds coming from a seemingly unlikely group of fishermen.
It's in these performances where Fisherman’s Friends is at its best. Performed by a group of actor-musicians, the authentic feel of these performances lends itself well to the inspiration behind the story. It is the quieter moments of these musical numbers where the stars seemingly align. The moments where they are accompanied by nothing but their own voices to create something truly beautiful that could reduce a grown man to tears. The relatively short length of the majority of these musical numbers means there is never a dull moment and, thankfully, you are never more than a couple of minutes away from the next musical number.
The cast that have been assembled to take on the members of this legendary group bring their talents to the forefront. Jason Langley brings something different to the show as fish out of water Danny. His characters attempts to convince the friends to come to London with him are played fantastically in a largely comedic role where his heart is given opportunities to come through. Though underused, Fia Houston-Hamilton is refreshing in her brief time as Danny’s former colleague Leah.
As for the group of men who make up the Fisherman’s Friends – collectively and individually they shine on stage. Highlights among the collectively talented group include Dan Buckley who is full of warmth as Rowan and Pete Gallagher whose winning smile as Leadville proves infectious. James Gaddas is wonderfully understated as the no-nonsense Jim, notably differen to the others in his approach on stage and standing out in doing so. Robert Duncan melts every heart in attendance with his fantastic turn as Jago, always standing out whenever it is his turn to speak/sing. It is the harmonies the group have together that really elevate the performances, with their chemistry adding a believable factor to these numbers.
The undoubted star of the show, however, belonged to someone who wasn’t one of the group but the daughter of one of them. As Alwyn, Parisa Shahmir stunned with her sensational performances, showcasing the most impressively beautiful tone to her voice. This really came alive on musical numbers such as ‘Village By The Sea’ and her original song ‘The Tidal Pool’. Giving a truly captivating performance in acting, singing and performing in general, she was always a joy to watch.
Amanda Whittington’s book manages to encapsulate the heart of the story, taking elements from both the movie adaptation and their true story to create a fantastic retelling which keeps a joyful and hopeful tone, even when the story takes a brief darker turn. James Grieve’s direction makes full use of Lucy Osborne’s wonderful set design, with Matt Coles choreography adding another impressive element to the already awe-inspiring musical numbers.
Whether you are familiar with their story or not, there is something for everybody in Fisherman’s Friends. Perhaps slightly reminiscent of Come From Away and The Choir Of Man at times, it was that joyful optimism that led to a truly remarkable show. Full of fantastic performances expertly done by a miraculous cast, Fisherman’s Friends was a surprising delight. While it seemed like I might not have had a chance to catch this show during its run, after what I witnessed on stage here, I’m glad this wasn’t one that got away.
Fisherman’s Friends is currently playing at Richmond Theatre until 4th March. It continues its UK tour until 20th May. Full dates and tickets at https://fishermanonstage.com/
Photos by Steve Tanner