Fisherman’s Friends at Bristol Hippodrome

WHEN asked about the show Fisherman’s Friends – the Musical, a member of the actual group Fisherman’s Friends said: “Well, not only did they make a film, which we are not in, now there’s a musical which we are not in as they din’t think we were handsome enough to play ourselves”.

Whatever the reason for the production company not using the real Fishermen’s Friends in the show, they certainly did an “ansome job me luvver” when they selected this cast and musicians to present Amanda Whittingham’s (Ladies Day, Ladies Down Under) version of their story. And what a story it is. A group of Cornish fishermen and farmers from Port Isaac singing regularly f or the sheer joy of it in the local pub, and occasionally outside, to help raise funds for local charities, particularly The Life Boat. They were discovered, given a recording contract, their first album made the top ten and they sang on the Pyramid stage at the Glastonbury Festival.

Whittington takes a few liberties with the true story, in the way she introduces Jason Langley’s Danny, a record producer fallen on hard times, his relationship to the group’s leader Jim (James Gaddas), still smarting after many years since his wife departed to London, abandoning him and their young daughter Alwyn (Parisa Shahmir), now an attractive strong-minded young women.

Danny tells more than one lie as he inveigles Jim, Alwyn and the rest of the locals, into allowing him to manage their affairs, musically and personally. While Jason makes a good job of representing the harsh world of the music business, James Gaddas,and Parisa do an equally fine job of showing the far more honest approach to life of the Fishermen’s Friends, at the same time battling their own demons. Parisa also finds time to slip in a few beautifully sung solo items.

At the same time, we are introduced to some wonderful real characters, Susan Penhaligon and Robert Ducan as the elderly fisherman Jago and his perceptive, caring wife Maggie, the young couple struggling to keep the local pub open, and of course the members of the vocal group.

Making excellent use of Lucy Osborne’s multi-purpose set, which quickly changes from a pub into a Soho club and a fishing boat at sea, director James Grieve keeps the performances moving as fast as the changes of scene. It was noticeable that sound designer Dan Samson, realising the difference between Bath’s Theatre Royal, where this production had a successful run last year, and the much bigger Bristol Hippodrome, cranked the sound up several notches to fit the needs of this auditorium.

Anyone who has ever sung in a choral group of any kind will tell you what an uplifting experience it is, and this group, accompanied by nine on-stage and extremely talented musician/stroke scene shifters, put their heart and soul into their singing of sea shantys, traditional Cornish airs and folk music, with the result that the audience has that same uplifting experience as the vocalists.

You had the feeling that, just as Danny represents outside commercial interests which, in these days of more and more easy access, are threatening to swamp the honest Cornish way of life, this company believes in every word they speak and sing. They look and sound as if they are singing for the joy of it, rather than the weekly pay packet that awaits them.


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