Writer and Director: Kay Mellor
Composer: Nick Lloyd Webber
Reviewer: Ruth Jepson
Loosely based on the tv show of the same name which ran from 2000 to 2005, Fat Friends has a clear target audience in the middle-aged women attending at Sheffield’s opening night, and if the knowing laughs and whispered comments are anything to judge by, many of whom are members of their local slimming group (or have been in the past). Accessible even to those who haven’t seen the series, the show tells the story of Leeds girl Kelly (Jodie Prenger), who might be a size 20 but has bought a size 16 dream wedding dress for her marriage to fiancé Kevin (Andrew “Freddie” Flintoff) with only six weeks left before the big day. Despite being fat and happy, a defensive moment on live TV leads Kelly down a path of competitive weight loss at the local slimming club, followed closely by Look North and Twitter. Half an apple and three almonds, six if you cut them in half – and just a few ‘herbal supplements’…
Prenger is perfectly cast as Kelly. She exudes self-confidence while also being able to portray moments of doubt, and the relationship portrayed between her and Flintoff is so believable that half the audience went home envious of more than just the latter’s good looks (although his singing could benefit from a bit of a do-over, however, his acting comes as a pleasant surprise). The same must be said of the relationship between slimming club leader Lauren (Natalie Anderson), a Jewish virgin trying her best to deny her attraction to Vicar Paul (Jonathan Halliwell). On the song side, there is not a dull note and all the music is catchy. The number Chocolate is a hilarious mix of Cadbury’s adverts and Fully Monty is very appropriate for Sheffield. Corset Song is a cheeky body positive bop that will stick with you all night. The pop culture references come thick and fast throughout, and seeing a new musical unafraid to embrace these things is a breath of fresh air.
The first half of the show is right on the wicket. Unfortunately, in the second half it drops the ball. The narrative seems unsure if it should push the ‘get slim and be happy’ or ‘love yourself the way you are’ message, and a rushed ‘will they / won’t they’ just muddies the waters further. The ending is satisfying, but the needless drama feels unnecessary. Add to that issue, the character of Pippa is a distracting double cast by the otherwise excellent Rachael Wooding, who also plays Kelly’s sister Joanne so well you can believe they are truly related off stage. In a show of engagingly realistic people turned up to 11, Pippa is portrayed as a pure parody which is not only somewhat jarring, but is uncomfortably viewable as a mockery of a woman with autism who we are encouraged to laugh at, not with. She may or may not be based on a character from the TV show, but in this day and age it feels somewhat inappropriate.
Fat Friends may not be the wedding cake, but it is definitely on par with the better buffet options. It is a fun night out, especially if you can relate to counting syns, spending points or simply subsiding on celery. And if nothing else, it is a good wedding based warm up to the Mamma Mia sequel due out soon.
Runs until 17th February 2018 | Image: Helen Maybanks