Saturday, 18 February 2023

REVIEW: Fishermen’s Friends at the Mayflower Southampton

The story of Fishermen’s Friend singers from Port Isaac in Cornwall began in 1995 but sprung to wider recognition with the release of their album in April 2010 which charted at number 9 on UK album charts and then became a charming film in 2019 with a sequel in 2022. It became a stage musical in October 2021 and after a trip to Toronto, the tour continues until 2023 May around the UK. If you are a fan of their sea shanties or looking for a feel-good night out it is worth catching the tour but don’t expect anything new or groundbreaking. It is simply a fun night out.

It is a large cast to tour with 24 performers on stage and a large grand set designed by Lucy Osbourne of the Port Isaac Harbour which is cleverly adapted for other interior scenes in the Golden Lion Pub and later In Compton Street London. At the heart of the story, and the characters that give the show an emotional connection, are three generations of a family. Maggie (played with a strong Cornish accent and a lot of charm by Susan Penhaligon) and Jago, her husband and elderly fisherman (played by Cornishman Robert Duncan) are parents to Jim who seems to act as spokesman for the band and carries the scars of his wife leaving him (a gruff James Gaddas) and grandparents to Alywyn (a strong performance from Parisa Shamir with a delightful haunting delivery of several folk ballads).

The rest of the main band (who one notes have a combined age of 560!) are Rowan (Dan Buckley), Wiggy (Martin Carroll) Archie (Hadrian Delacey), Leadville (Pete Gallagher), Bran (Alfie Gidley), Frank (Nicholas Tizzard) and Owen (James William-Pattison) and they are at the best bantering in the bar or stomping out acapella sea shanties. The best two songs are left to the finale “No hopers, Jokers & Rogues” and “South Australia” and apart from some more traditional songs like “What shall we do with the drunken sailor”, the rest of the tender merge as a single pleasant but not distinctive sound. Occasionally songs like “Haul away joe” add a bit more rhythmic drama to the show but it is the Ladies' folk ballads that add emotion and variation to the show.

Into this world stumbles the self-confident former A & R man Danny (Jason Langley) who falls for Alywyn while trying to make a quick buck for himself and convince his former boss at Island Records Leah (Fia Houston- Hamilton) to give them a recording contract. The other subplot is the struggle of the family-run Golden Lion pub at the centre of the local community to make a living for Rowan and Sally (Hazel Monaghan) without the seasonal trade. Amanda Whittington’s script focuses on the love story and reflects on the importance of trust and friendship in small communities but somehow on the large stage and without the benefit of the close-ups in the films some of the emotional heart is swept aside in a celebration of this traditional musical style.

Director James Grieve uses the stage space well with multiple levels effectively used to highlight key moments and relationships and an imaginative setting of the scenes at sea on their fishing boats. The clever design allows slick transitions between interior and exterior scenes with choreographed moves of props by the cast which maintains the pace throughout and the stage never looks overcrowded with choreography by Matt Cole involving the on-stage musicians as well as the principals to create a real sense of a small community acting together.

The full house audience at the Mayflower loved it giving it a standing ovation as they often do for the musicals there but why not? On a cold damp February evening what is not like about this feel-good musical with its accessible fun songs, slick staging and some delightful-sounding singing voices, it is simply a good night out which leaves you smiling and humming “South Australia “ on the way home.

Review by Nick Wayne 

Rating: ★★★

Seat: Stalls, Row W | Price: £39.50

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