Fisherman's Friends the musical

Location: Mayflower Theatre, Southampton

Fishermans Friends the Musical credit Pamela Raith 3 lr

Credit: Pamela Raith

By Tim Saunders

Sea shanties have made a comeback in recent years and it’s because of some little-known fishermen from Port Isaac who are now more famous than they could ever have imagined. While I vaguely understood that these very particular songs were sung by sailors and men of the sea, I didn’t fully appreciate their importance. That was until I saw Fisherman’s Friends the musical at Mayflower Theatre, Southampton.

I learnt that the word shanty comes from ‘chanter’, the French verb ‘to sing’. It is an art form to be savoured especially when sung as a cappella, which takes some doing but the cast of this musical carry it off to a tee.

Being a fisherman is hard graft, up at 4am according to Jago (Cornishman Robert Duncan – Drop the Dead Donkey) so it’s no surprise that aged 72 he chooses to retire. Despite his grey hair and beard I can’t help seeing Gus Hedges in his suit, tie and briefcase…

Folk singing helps these men get through the tough times while celebrating the good with classics like The Drunken Sailor, Keep Hauling and No Hopers, Jokers and Rogues. These are not just work colleagues but true friends. We are treated to some really great singing and music. I watch with my son Henry (7) and the cast all give such strong performances that his attention is held throughout. I look over at him and his face is a picture; he is in awe of the drummer while the double bass player makes me smile as he twists his instrument like a dancer.

The set is perfect, too really making us feel as if we are also in the Golden Lion savouring some fabulous Cornish ale. This musical is as much a celebration of Cornwall (there’s no where worse than London… Padstow?) as it is the fishing industry. Tucking into my Friday night fish and chips will now have added meaning.

The wardrobe has to be mentioned, as well because the cast are all kitted out in the archetypal Capt’n Birdseye sweaters and the yellow waterproofs. All of this is vital for setting the scene.

We see how a shanty can tackle politics, for instance the Spanish fishermen in our waters but it is also a show of choral strength and stamina. Quite literally a choir at sea. Amazing. We do enjoy watching the fishermen set sail in their boat and are with them in the choppy waters. Some great effects with lighting and smoke. For me there is a particularly poignant moment when the fishermen with Jim (James Gaddas – Bad Girls) at the front, break into a shanty as the lights dim and the mist rises.

This is a wonderful tale that sees these Cornish fishermen travel to London and eventually win a £1m recording contract, the album getting into the top 10.

“My favourite character is Danny (Jason Langley – Lucan ITV),” says Henry. “I like his sunglasses (at the beginning).” What can you say to that? Danny brings a fresh cockney commercial perspective to proceedings. From laughter erupting on his arrival when his Range Rover is swept out to sea to saving the pub that he has been accused of ripping away from the community, he wins a place in our hearts. Without him there would be no recording contract.

This is a fabulous feel good production that I am really pleased I watched. You will be too.

On until Feb 18.