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REVIEW: Fishermen’s Friends The Musical at Cambridge Arts Theatre

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The audience was on its feet and yelled for more as the curtain fell on the first night of Fishermen’s Friends at Cambridge Arts Theatre.

This feelgood show is a triumph of musicianship and song.

The musical opens with a shipping forecast warning of gales and we see a boat on stage tossed in a storm. After that, you believe they are fishermen. One of them says he is retiring “After 55 years of 4am starts and 30-foot waves.”

Fishermen’s Friends The Musical is at Cambridge Arts Theatre until Saturday, April 29 then touring.

Fishermen’s Friends The Musical is at Cambridge Arts Theatre until Saturday, April 29 then touring.

Fishermen’s Friends The Musical is at Cambridge Arts Theatre until Saturday, April 29 then touring.

Fishermen’s Friends The Musical is at Cambridge Arts Theatre until Saturday, April 29 then touring.

Most of the action takes place in The Golden Lion where the fishermen drink.

When Londoner Danny arrives apparently wanting an espresso, Cornish wife Maggie, played adroitly by Janet Mooney, says flatly: “Give him Nescafe in an eggcup.” Amanda Whittington’s script kept us chuckling.

The true story, which has now lent itself to two films, is something worthy of Hollywood – a group of Cornish fishermen who sang sea shanties to raise money for the Port Isaac lifeboat were discovered by a talent spotter on holiday.

They are signed to Island Records, make a disc that reaches number nine in the charts and sing at Glastonbury and The Albert Hall.

This year they appeared at Cambridge Corn Exchange, and they are – as it happens – part of the line up for this summer’s Cambridge Folk Festival.

Fishermen’s Friends The Musical is at Cambridge Arts Theatre until Saturday, April 29 then touring.

Fishermen’s Friends The Musical is at Cambridge Arts Theatre until Saturday, April 29 then touring.

Fishermen’s Friends The Musical is at Cambridge Arts Theatre until Saturday, April 29 then touring.

Fishermen’s Friends The Musical is at Cambridge Arts Theatre until Saturday, April 29 then touring.

Of course, the tale will make a good musical – it’s all about music.

As well as precision a cappella singing, which the Fishermen’s Friends are famous for, the accompanying musicians on stage, who also sing, play violin, guitar, banjo, melodeon, mandolin, bass, and double bass – as well as the whistle, concertina, accordion, harmonica, bouzouki, and ukulele.

The show has a story with an arc, a beginning a middle and an end, but it is also like going to a concert full of rousing tunes.

The Fishermen’s Friends are all male but the show benefits from the lyrical voices of Parisa Shamir, and Hazel Monaghan who play two young Cornish women who have their own stories.

Jason Langley, who plays Danny the A&R man on holiday who can’t believe what he happens upon, also has a fine voice.

Fishermen’s Friends The Musical is at Cambridge Arts Theatre until Saturday, April 29 then touring.

Fishermen’s Friends The Musical is at Cambridge Arts Theatre until Saturday, April 29 then touring.

All three give memorable performances – as do all the cast in this ensemble show. Every man has his own distinct character.

There are 19 songs in the first half and 17 in the second (if you don’t include the encore). Every number is a triumph – also of stagecraft and dance but I found Cousin Jack in the first half and Keep Hauling in the second particularly moving.

Directed by James Grieve with some amusing choreography by Matt Cole and a set by Lucy Osborne that takes us to the sea, this is a show a lot of us will want to see more than once.

Fishermen’s Friends The Musical is at Cambridge Arts Theatre until Saturday, April 29 then touring.

 

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