Based on Kay Mellor’s 2000 TV Show about the lives of the members of a Leeds slimming club, Fat Friends has now had the musical theatre treatment.
It’s six weeks shy of Kelly’s wedding and she’s ready to float down the aisle in her dream dress. However, there’s a not inconsiderable problem – it doesn’t fit. Cue, signing up to a slimming club. There she meets a rag-bag mix of misfits all with problems of their own.
On the surface, Fat Friends is an entertaining, escapist evening at the theatre. However, as with much of Mellor’s work, it is always deeper than it seems. Scratch beneath the surface and there’s a deeper core. In this case addressing the issues of body image, fat shaming and exploitation by the diet industry. The issues of social media trolling are also tackled, something the source material never had to deal with. There’s a resonance for anyone who has had to count the calories. Well written, if over-long and a bit broad and coarse at times, it avoids being preachy but still manages to communicate a message under the candy floss.
Nick Lloyd Webber’s score (yes, son of you-know-who) is absolutely excellent, don’t be deceived by titles such as: Diets Are Crap, Big and Battered, sung in a chip shop, and Corset Song, understated they ain’t, but they’re catchy, beautifully layered musically and fit the narrative (if a bit classy for the script). I’m not sure if I imagined it but there was a little glimmer of Lloyd Webber Snr’s Take That Look Off Your Face at one point.
The rolling cast (some actors only appear at certain venues) are uniformly entertaining and have some of the best sounding voices to grace the stages of the UK in recent years. In Scotland, veteran local actress Elaine C. Smith replaces Sam Bailey as Kelly’s mother, the ubiquitous Smith who is becoming a predictable stand-in when actors get a nosebleed travelling north of the border is excellent. Prenger is a metaphorically larger than life Kelly and her much-lauded voice is as strong as ever. Natalie Anderson (Lauren) and TV veteran Kevin Kennedy as Kelly’s dad, provide sure-footed support. One surprise of the evening is Atomic Kitten’s Natasha Hamilton. She has little stage time but delivers a well-judged comedy turn as diet franchise owner Julia Fleshman. Joel Montague, in for Andrew ‘Freddie’ Flintoff as Kelly’s fiancé Kevin has the most beautifully melodic voice, one which does full justice to Lloyd Webber’s music.
While this is undoubtedly an entertaining production, there is one thing that needs to go on a diet and that’s the script. There are a few too many unnecessary scenes that add little more than extending the running time and could easily be trimmed.
Bretta Gerecke’s set design is colourful and functional but leans a bit towards the homemade pantomime to be truly effective.
It echoes the famous words of RuPaul, “If you can’t love yourself, then how in the hell are you gonna love somebody else?” A life-affirming, hugely relatable piece of entertainment with the best singing you’ll hear on stage all year.
Runs until 5 May 2018 | Image: Contributed
This review was originally written for The Reviews Hub