It is so hard to write a review for a show with a name like this without including a load of piscine related puns, but I will try my best. No I won’t.
This is nothing more nor less than a feel-good show comprised almost entirely of sea shanties, both traditional and new, with the flimsiest of storylines; not so much a juke box musical as a tackle box one. For anyone who is not familiar with the tale, it is about a group of fishermen from Port Isaac in Cornwall, who used to sing to raise money for charity but were offered a record deal and made an album which went gold. They have since been the subject of a TV documentary, released two more albums, and appeared on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury. Two films have also been made based on their story.
A totally authentic night in a Cornish pub – honest!
This stage show tells their story by having a Cockney ex-record company worker discover the group singing in their local pub, where everyone drank out of pewter tankards, to give it the ‘authentic’ Cornish ‘Oh Ahrr’ vibe. It crossed my mind at one stage that, had a similarly patronising approach been taken towards a foreign country there would have been accusations of racial stereotyping. He is treated suspiciously by the locals, but persuades the men to go to London for an audition, which does not exist. He gets them to sing outside the home of the A&R woman for Island Records, whose flatmate records the performance and posts it on social media where it goes viral, prompting their contract.
There is obviously a love story or two, a battle to save the pub from closing down and lots of music. I was tempted to refer to it as Calendar Girls with woolly jumpers, but the narrative is nothing like as deep at that show. The death from illness of one of the members is covered but no mention made of an accident on stage which claimed the lives of their tour manager and one of the singers.
The singers being interviewed for national TV
It is an ensemble piece with only a few main stars. Jason Langley plays Danny, the London wide-boy; Parisa Shahmir is Alwyn, his love interest; Robert Duncan is the oldest of the singers whose demise is included, as is the line we could all join in with when he had a coughing bout – ‘You should suck a Fisherman’s Friend!’ Susan Penhaligon was Maggie, Alwyn’s grandmother. Everyone had a shot at singing and dancing, all making a great job of it, which made the stage very crowded when they all did it together!
The cast with the band on the mezzanine.
The set was imaginatively done with a mezzanine above the stage where either the band played or conversations took place to isolate them from the main area. The interior of the Golden Lion Inn occasionally appeared from behind a door and a boat was pulled from side to side with ropes to make it look as though it was in rough seas.
There were a couple of lines in some of the modern shanties which were food for thought, one illustrating how those ‘characters’ from the South-West viewed the rest of the world. ‘The English live in our houses and the Spaniards fish in our sea’. I realise that the Cornish people identify more with Brittany than Britain, even their flags are black and white, but it comes as a bit of a shock when it is spoken aloud in a musical. Perhaps the accusation suggested above could be justified.
Anyway, that is a discussion for another day, we were there to enjoy an evening of escapism, fun and frolics to the soundtrack of the songs of the sea. Taken at that level it was a very good night out and I enjoyed it a lot. Actually it might have been better had it been treated as a concert by a tribute band, but it wasn’t!
Brace yourselves, here comes the inevitable.
There were several songs conspicuous by their absence in the show. Although Sloop John B, which is associated with the Beach Boys, was performed, their bigger hit, Cod Only Knows was left out for some reason, as were the Bonnie Tyler classic It’s A Hard Hake; and my Peter Noone and Hermans Hermits Superfans; Linda in Kentucky and Ronda in Florida will be devastated to learn that there was no rendition of There’s A Kind Of Huss. They probably ran out of time.
Fisherman’s Friends – The Musical runs until 19th November at Leeds Grand Theatre. For further information and tickets please go to https://leedsheritagetheatres.com/whats-on/fishermans-friends/
For details of other shows at Leeds Heritage Theatres see https://leedsheritagetheatres.com/whats-on/
All photographs by Steve Tanner, provided by Leeds Heritage Theatres. They are of the 2021 Production so some of the cast members are not those appearing in the current show.