Resident Director: Craig Armstrong
Writer: Kay Mellor
Choreographer: Karen Bruce
Reviewer: Fraser MacDonald
As the summer sun begins to peek out from the infinite greyness of above, the time comes to consider if our beach bodies are ready for public display. As luck would have it, someone else is watching their waistline – and they are bringing their whole family to the Edinburgh Playhouse for a three night run as part of a UK tour.
Kelly is trying to squeeze into her perfect wedding dress with only six weeks to go until the big day. When an opportunity that she can’t refuse comes along, to be the face of a slimming club with an all-expenses paid wedding, Kelly must face that it is more than just her waistline that will be changing.
The sickly-sweet Yorkshire tale, cut from the same cloth as other modern British musicals like Calendar Girls, Fat Friends: The Musical is an easy watch. Much like the TV series of the early noughties, where the musical takes its inspiration, the piece is fed to its audience in bite-size chunks.
Writer Kay Mellor uses her own experience of weight loss classes to inspire the show. There is clearly a whole lot of truth to this musical and this gives the show its heart. Putting empowered women front and centre is refreshing and a stark contrast to an industry so often dominated by an obsession for image. The protagonist proudly proclaims that “Flesh is fabulous” and the audience are totally behind her as she does.
Exploring more than just the inches around the hips, the musical preaches the message that beauty is only skin deep. Kelly, though the subject of the weight loss, stays surprisingly unperplexed by the numbers on the scale until late on in the production. In its characters and its misshapen set, the show is a caricature on the real world it represents, which omits it from any serious criticism; the feeling is a desire to entertain, which it succeeds in doing.
Jodie Prenger plays protagonist Kelly confidently, offering a ballsy and brash character with a lot of heart. Her vocal performance is expectedly delightful and finds no challenge in leading Nick Lloyd Webber’s charming original score. Particular highlights include the comical Step Up and an on-stage quick-change extravaganza Chocolate.
Scotland’s very own First Lady of theatre, Elaine C Smith, joins the tour for its Scottish dates and proves instantly why she is such a hit with Scottish audiences. In the role of Kelly’s mum Betty, Smith epitomises the maternal role with a commanding vocal belt to support her. She is every bit the star and is a superb addition to the talented ensemble. Her on stage husband, played by Corrie’s Kevin Kennedy surprises with a solid vocal performance and a deadpan comedy
Natasha Hamilton has a relatively small role in the production, which is disappointing given her talent and experience in musical theatre. Nonetheless, she fits well into the ensemble and delivers a robust performance.
It is a pleasant surprise to see the company using the entire Playhouse stage as acting space; so often, touring productions will black out the sides to accommodate their smaller scale touring set. Here, however, the production uses the whole of the sizeable stage which ensures the audience are invited into the drama rather than simply being passive onlookers.
Theatre doesn’t always have to be clever to be enjoyable. Fat Friends: The Musical is unashamedly twee; it may not be an intellectual workout for its audience but is nonetheless a feel-good night of entertainment.
Runs until 21 April 2018, then touring | Image: Contributed