Ahoy, there …! World premiere stage production of FISHERMAN’S FRIENDS: THE MUSICAL sets sail across the UK

    The world premiere production of FISHERMAN’S FRIENDS: THE MUSICAL has set sail on a tour of the UK, Ireland and Canada. 

    The UK, Ireland and Canada tour follows a highly successful, sold-out season at Hall for Cornwall, where box office records were smashed, making it the biggest-selling production in Hall for Cornwall’s 25-year history.

    Featuring hit shanties made famous by the band including Keep Haulin’Nelson’s BloodNo Hopers Jokers & Rogues and many more.

    FISHERMAN’S FRIENDS: THE MUSICAL is directed by James Grieve and written by Amanda Whittington with choreography by Matt Cole, musical direction by James Findlay, set and costume design by Lucy Osborne, musical supervision and arrangements by David White, sound design by Dan Samson, lighting design by Johanna Town and casting by Jim Arnold. 

    The cast includes James Gaddas (CasualtyBad GirlsCoronation StreetThe Girls, Billy Elliot, Monty Python’s Spamalot, Mamma Mia!) as Jim, Parisa Shahmir (The Snow QueenThe Last Ship and Mamma Mia!) as Alwyn, Robert Duncan (Drop the Dead DonkeyCasualtyWhere the Heart Is, Twelve Angry Men) as Jago, Susan Penhaligon (Bouquet of Barbed WireEmmerdaleA Fine RomanceThree Sisters, The Real Thing, Mr Love, The Maintenance Man, Dangerous Corner and Of Mice and Men) as Maggie and Anton Stephans (finalist in The X FactorBlues Brothers Meet Soul SistersPorgy and BessStarlight Express and Smokey Joe’s Cafe) as Leadville.

    They are joined by Jason Langley (Tina: The Tina Turner Musical (West End), Oslo (West End/National Theatre), Hedda Gabler (National Theatre), War Horse (West End), Enron (West End), Da Vinci’s Demons (BBC), World Without End (Netflix)) will play record promoter Danny, Dan Buckley (Eugenius! (The Other Palace and London Palladium), Ushers: The Front of House Musical (Charing Cross Theatre), The Book of Mormon (Prince of Wales Theatre), Loserville (Garrick Theatre & West Yorkshire Playhouse), Lord of the Flies (UK Tour), Spring Awakening– The Musical (UK Tour)) will play Rowan, Dakota Starr (The Girls (West End/Leeds Grand Theatre/The Lowry), A Christmas Carol (National Tour), Troilus and Cressida (RSC)) will play Ben, Pete Gallagher (original West End cast of Only Fools And Horses (Theatre Royal Haymarket) Jesus Christ Superstar Arena Tour, Oklahoma! (UK Tour), Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (London Palladium), A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (Regent’s Park), The Rocky Horror Show (Duke of York’s), Buddy (Victoria Palace)) will play Wiggie, Hadrian Delacey (Miss Saigon (Theatre Royal Drury Lane), Les Misérables (Palace Theatre), Jesus Christ Superstar (West End, UK Tour & International Tour), Jerry Springer The Opera (National Theatre & Cambridge Theatre, for which he won the 2004 Olivier Award for Best Supporting Performance in a Musical), The Producers (Theatre Royal Drury Lane & UK Tour), The Phantom of The Opera (Her Majesty’s Theatre)) will play Archie, Fia Houston-Hamilton (The Wolf Of Wall Street (Immersive London Production), Mamma Mia! (UK Tour)) will play Leah, Hazel Monaghan (Romeo & Juliet/The Merry Wives of Windsor/A Midsummer Night’s Dream/Macbeth/Much Ado About Nothing (The Three Inch Fools), The Elves and the Shoemaker (Nottingham Playhouse)) will play Sally, John O’Mahony (As You Like It (Shakespeare’s Globe), The Tempest (Regent’s Park), Death Of A Salesman (European Tour), The Good Karma Hospital, Mrs Brown’s Boys) will play Eddy, Louisa Beadel (Fame (West End & UK Tour), King Lear (Shakespeare’s Globe), Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead and Future Conditional (Old Vic)) will play Morwenna, Becky Hurst (making her theatre debut) will play Grace and James William-Pattison (Once (UK Tour), The Last Ship (UK Tour), My Fair Lady (The Mill at Sonning), Agatha Christie’s Crooked House, ABBA Voyage) will play Owen, with musicians Hazel AskewMel Biggs, and Alfie Gidley with the band being led by Musical Director  James Findlay, and ensemble cast Hazel SimmonsJanet MooneyDominic Brewer and Martin Carroll.

    FISHERMAN’S FRIENDS: THE MUSICAL is based on the true story of the Cornish singing sensations, Fisherman’s Friends, and the hit 2019 film about their life.  When a group of Cornish fishermen came together to sing the traditional working songs they’d sung for generations, they hoped to raise a few quid for charity.  Nobody, least of all the fishermen, expected their story to end on the Pyramid stage of Glastonbury.  Packed with sea shanties, FISHERMAN’S FRIENDS is a feelgood voyage about friendship, community and music.

    The hit 2019 FISHERMAN’S FRIENDS movie, with a screenplay by Nick Moorcroft, Meg Leonard and Piers Ashworth delighted fans across the world with the sequel film, Fisherman’s Friends: One and All, set to be released in the UK on 19 August 2022. 

    FISHERMAN’S FRIENDS: THE MUSICAL is produced by ROYO with Flying Fish Productions, Mighty Village, Island Records, David Mirvish and Cornwall Playhouse Productions.

    INTERVIEW WITH DIRECTOR JAMES GRIEVE

    As the world premiere production of Fisherman’s Friends:The Musical embarks on a UK and Ireland tour, director James Grieve promises audiences are in store for “a feel-good, foot-stomping, sea shanty musical telling the astonishing story of the worlds least likely boyband”.

    Based on the true story of the Cornish singing sensations and the smash hit 2019 film about them, the show has already played to packed houses at the Hall for Cornwall in Truro – where it broke box office records as the most successful production in the venue’s history.

    Grieve is in no doubt as to why the musical, with its mix of comedy and drama, was so rapturously received in Truro and why it is sure to captivate audiences around the country. “Its so heart-warming to see a group of very normal, humble people achieve something extraordinary,” he says of the tale of a bunch of fishermen who come together to sing traditional working songs to raise money for charity, never expecting to land a record deal and end up performing at the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury. 

    “The real Fishermans Friends are ordinary blokes who work hard as fishermen, farmers, builders and shopkeepers. We all see ourselves in them. They never sought fame and fortune but it found them and their remarkable talent, and its wonderful when good people get justly rewarded. Thats what makes this story so uplifting. But more than a story about finding fame and fortune its a story about friendship, loyalty, community and the unbreakable ties that bind us, and it is full of humour.”

    The multi-level set designed by Lucy Osborne recreates the fishing village of Port Isaac, including the famous Golden Lion pub where the lads first begin singing over a few pints, as well as the Atlantic ocean and locations in London.

    There’s also a life-size boat on stage, with the director adding: “We wanted to capture the hard graft and very real danger of life as a working fisherman at the mercy of stormy weather and rough seas. Im fortunate to be working with a world-class team of creatives who have summoned howling winds, towering waves and vicious storms through dazzling design, lighting, sound, choreography and music.” 

    As in the film, the audience discovers the Fisherman’s Friends through the eyes of Danny, a music manager who stumbles into Port Isaac and finds his life transformed by the village, the band and the songs.

    Starring as Jim, the group’s lead singer, James Gaddas is no stranger to musicals. He’s known for Bad Girls and Hollyoaks on TV but he’s also been in the likes of Billy Elliot, Spamalot and Mamma Mia! on stage. “But I’ve never done anything like this before. It’s earthy and visceral. The music is strong and grounded. It dates back as long as 200 years ago, with the fishermen adapting it for today but staying true to those roots.”

    There are 37 musical numbers in the show, including most of the songs from the film and many more besides, with the singers accompanied by seven folk musicians who between them play around 40 instruments. “And the band are stunning,” James enthuses. “You get a cappella performances, then the counterpoints when the musicians join in.”

    The actor describes Jim as a man for whom his boat, his crew and singing with his mates are his life. And Gaddas feels there’s a universality to the characters, noting: “These are people you can relate to and we all want that magic moment when things turn around for everyday people doing everyday jobs. It’s like a kid playing football in the park and a scout just happens to be there. It’s something unexpected suddenly happening to the underdog.”

    Robert Duncan plays Jim’s father Jago, who is in his 70s and the elder statesman of the group. Born in the Cornish town of St Austell, Duncan didn’t hesitate to say yes to the show. “It’s set in a place I know very well,” he says, “and I was excited about doing something from my own neck of the woods. It’s like me paying homage, plus I’d never done a musical before.”

    The star of Drop The Dead Donkey has toured in Twelve Angry Men and Rehearsal for Murder. How is he finding singing the sea shanties? Robert laughs. “It’s certainly not water off a duck’s back but David White, our music supervisor and arranger, told me ‘We don’t want the most wonderful voices in the world, these are fishermen, so do it as you believe working people would sing’. I did sing in choirs when I was younger but before this I’d never have had the confidence to sing a song on stage. Somehow this felt like the right time and when I was given the opportunity I grasped it with both hands.”

    The story, he believes, is in many ways specific to Cornwall yet it has a universal appeal. “Some of the things in it are peculiarly Cornish but the idea of how the landscape shapes people is true wherever you go. Plus it’s about community and getting through things together, which is now more relevant than ever.”

    Duncan believes audiences around the country are going to love the songs in the show. “The a cappella group, which I feel privileged to be a part of, creates such a strong sound and it touches people. There’s a lot of emotion in this play and it’s not just a cappella, we also have the folk band who are so talented they can play anything. They become a part of the community on stage, wondering around with harps and double basses.” 

    Playing Jago’s wife Maggie is Susan Penhaligon, who was also raised in Cornwall and says: “There’s an old phrase ‘Cornish women be brave and stubborn’ and that’s what Maggie is. Her roots are in Cornwall and she’s typical in that she’s independent, free-thinking and tough. I love her and I feel like I know her.” 

    Having lived in St Ives and Falmouth from age six until she went to boarding school in Bristol when she was 11, Penhaligon adds: “Fisherman’s Friends is a Cornish story and they don’t come along very often. As far as I’m concerned, we’re exporting the right kind of Cornish culture rather than bobbing boats, pasties and jam and cream on scones. It’s not the picture postcard image, it’s the real Cornwall.”

    Asked if she can relate to Maggie as a character, she laughs. “Yes because I think I’m also brave and stubborn.” And she agrees the story will resonate around the country. “It’s has a truth to it and it’s about history. There’s something basic and organic about it that touches people and the music is fantastic.” 

    The actress came to fame in Bouquet of Barbed Wire and is known for A Fine Romance and Emmerdale on TV and a variety of stage roles including Three Sisters and Of Mice and Men. Fisherman’s Friends is only her second musical, after she played Fräulein Schneider in the 2017 tour of Cabaret. “And I’ve never been so terrified in my life,” she recalls of singing on stage for the first time, “but by the end of the run they couldn’t get me off the stage.” She laughs. “When it comes to the singing, I’m an actress who gets away with it.”

    Adapting the story for the stage, Amanda Whittington points out: “It’s a fascinating world to explore and discover. Port Isaac and the fisherman’s way of life is rich territory for drama and the characters are funny, real and recognisable.

    “Then of course there’s the sea shanties, which are beautiful and timeless. The traditional shanties are the backbone of the story but there’s also contemporary songs of the sea and wonderful new songs written especially for the show.”

    The writer, whose previous stage adaptations include Saturday Night and Sunday Morning and Tipping the Velvet, is seeking to strike a balance between fact and fiction, explaining:  I love the fact its about a real place and time, yet its full of mythical and magical elements. It’s about making sure we stay true to the original fishermen’s story but embracing the possibilities theatre brings.”

    As for what she hopes audiences will take away from seeing it, Amanda says: “Times are tough and we want Fisherman’s Friends to be a joyous and life-affirming experience for all. It’s a story about the place you call home, whatever and wherever that is. I also think you’ll be literally taking the songs away in your head and heart. Once heard, they’re never forgotten.” 

    2023 TOUR SCHEDULE

    31 Jan – Sat 4 Feb NOTTINGHAM Theatre Royal 0115 989 5555 www.trch.co.uk

    7 – 11 February SHEFFIELD Lyceum Theatre 0114 249 600 www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk

    14 – 18 February SOUTHAMPTON Mayflower Theatre 02380 711811 www.mayflower.org.uk

    21 – 25 February CANTERBURY Marlowe Theatre 01227 787787 www.marlowetheatre.com

    28 Feb – 4 March RICHMOND Theatre 0844 871 7615 www.atgtickets.com/Richmond

    7 – 11 March BRIGHTON Theatre Royal 0844 871 7615 www.atgtickets.com/venues/theatre-royal-brighton

    14 – 18 March OXFORD New Theatre 0844 871 7615
    www.atgtickets.com/venues/new-theatre-oxford

    21 – 25 March MALVERN Festival Theatre 01684 892277www.malvern-theatres.co.uk

    28 March – 1 April LEICESTER Curve 0116 242 3595 www.curveonline.co.uk 

    4 – 8 April TORQUAY Princess Theatre 0844 871 7615 www.atgtickets.com/venues/princess-theatre-torquay

    11 – 22 April TRURO Hall For Cornwall 01872 262466 www.hallforcornwall.co.uk

    3 – 6 May BRISTOL Hippodrome 0844 871 7615

    www.atgtickets.com/venues/bristol-hippodrome

    9 – 13 May GLASGOW King’s Theatre 0844 871 7615

    www.atgtickets.com/venues/kings-theatre

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