As the world premiere production of ‘Fisherman’s Friends: The Musical’ continues its UK tour, director James Grieve promises audiences are in store for “a feel-good, foot-stomping, sea shanty musical, telling the astonishing story of the world’s least likely boyband,” when it anchors down at Leicester’s Curve theatre this March…
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 venues including 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 when it comes to Curve.
“It’s 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 on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury.
“The real Fisherman’s 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 it’s wonderful when good people get justly rewarded. That’s what makes this story so uplifting. But more than a story about finding fame and fortune, it’s 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.”
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.
“I’ve not 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 fisherman adapting it for today, but staying true to those roots,” he says.
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, and I was excited about doing something from my own neck of the woods,” he says. “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.”
Catch Fisherman’s Friends: The Musical at Curve between March 28- April 1.