Book, Lyrics and Director: Kay Mellor
Music: Nick Lloyd Webber
Reviewer: Clare White
It’s been 18 years since ITV drama Fat Friends first hit our screens and now Kay Mellor’s popular slimming club-inspired comedy has undergone its own transformation for the stage. The musical adaptation, written and directed by Mellor, is a funny and frothy romp, featuring a host of stars from soap operas, talent shows, and, curiously, the Ashes – but more on that later.
Set in Leeds, the story follows members of The Super Slimmers Club and their weight-loss journeys. When bubbly bride-to-be Kelly finds her dream wedding dress, the fact that its two sizes too small doesn’t deter her. With six weeks until her wedding, she joins the slimming group and reluctantly swaps her chips and chocolate for half an apple and three almonds. Power-hungry Super Slimmers boss Julia Fleshman sees a golden PR opportunity and coerces Kelly into dropping the pounds by any means necessary. Meanwhile, there is unrequited love, sweaty fitness classes and a chip shop fire.
Mellor’s cheeky lyrics paired with Nick Lloyd Webber’s pop-inspired score, which includes Big and Battered, the Corset Song and Diets are Crap, is good fun, albeit not particularly memorable and at times rather basic and clichéd. Karen Bruce’s clever choreography adds an extra layer of comedy, particularly in accurately portraying the horror of a weekly weigh-in in Step Up and during saucy fantasy number Chocolate.
West End star Jodie Prenger is fabulous as Kelly, capturing her big, bold and beautiful spirit and impressing on every level. Her leading man is none other than England cricket star Andrew ‘Freddie’ Flintoff, making his musical theatre debut as Kelly’s dopey fiancé Kevin. It’s an interesting casting choice, and one that by and large, pays off. There is a lot of affection for Flintoff, who has always been a popular character both on and off the cricket pitch. He receives a huge cheer when he first appears on stage, and while clearly not in his comfort zone, for an untrained actor and singer, he does a decent job.
X Factor winner Sam Bailey proves herself to be a fine actress as Kelly’s mum Betty and her voice is incredible. Former Coronation Street actor Kevin ‘Curly Watts’ Kennedy is suitably grouchy as her long-suffering husband and Atomic Kitten star Natasha Hamilton hams it up as caricatured super-bitch Julia.
Praise must go to Rachael Wooding, who plays Kelly’s feisty sister Joanne – she is great comedic value and has some of the best/naughtiest lines, and Emmerdale actress Natalie Anderson, whose portrayal of skittish group leader Lauren is really enjoyable, as is her will they/won’t they romance with local vicar Paul.
Mellor is the master of creating real characters with relatable problems, and presenting them in a humorous, uplifting narrative, and Fat Friends on stage achieves this and then some. It’s heartfelt, fluffier and funnier than the television series, however its contradictory messages jar slightly – on one hand, it promotes loving yourself no matter what your size, and on the other, there is a suggestion that most of life’s problems can be solved by dropping a dress size, and that being thin equals being happy. Overall, it is tongue-in-cheek and thankfully, the conclusion takes the right route – as Kelly is reminded she is beautiful inside and out, and her fiancé, friends and family love her just as she is.
Fat Friends is an enjoyable ensemble piece, with great characterisation from all, across the board. Containing the necessary ingredients of a formulaic musical comedy, the show goes down well with its target audience, but requires some polish and at times suffers from its overly clichéd lyrics. However, what it lacks in style, it makes up for with its endearing characters, Northern charm and cheeky wit.
Runs until 7 April 2018 and on tour | Image: Contributed