Touring – reviewed at Edinburgh Playhouse
Guest reviewer: Sarah Moyes
It’s been almost 20 years since Fat Friends burst onto our TV screens, but its back in the form of an entertaining touring musical.
The TV show has been adapted for stage by Kay Mellor, who wrote and directed the TV series, with original music by Nick Lloyd Webber. Set in Leeds, the story follows the much-loved characters Kelly and Kevin during the lead-up to their wedding. After buying her dream wedding dress two sizes too small, Kelly is on a mission to lose weight with the help of her yoyo dieting mum Betty, chip shop owner dad Fergus and Super Slimmers boss Julie Fleshman – who slips her some diet pills to help her along.
Jodie Prenger leads the all-star cast as the loud and loveable Kelly. Prenger is a complete natural on stage and gives a fantastic performance full of warmth, humour and superb singing. Her adorable yet slightly idiotic husband Kevin is played by Joel Montague, who puts in a strong performance.
Her mum, Betty, is played by everyone’s favourite Scottish actress Elaine C Smith with Coronation Street’s Kevin Kennedy as her dad Fergus. Both put in solid performances, but given the breadth of Smith’s comedic experience, you can’t help but wish she was had been given funnier lines to deliver.
There are also roles for Atomic Kitten’s Natasha Hamilton as super diva and slimming guru Julie. While her role is small, she proves she can make the transition from pop star to musical star seamlessly. Emmerdale and Wicked star Natalie Anderson shines as bridal shop owner and slimming group leader Lauren who is hopelessly in love with the adorable vicar Paul played by Jonathan Halliwell.
Rachael Wooding may not have as recognisable a name as others in the cast, but her hilarious and witty performance as Kelly’s sister Joanne makes her a favourite among the audience as she bickers with her sister, a situation anyone with a sibling will be familiar with.
Natalie Anderson and Jonathan Halliwell. Pic: Helen Maybanks
One thing that lets the show down is the music. The songs are nice, but most are instantly forgettable. In the first act, we’re treated to songs about fish and chips and corsets, and while they might be amusing at the time, they hardly make you want to rush out and buy the soundtrack.
However, in amongst the mediocre, there are two stand out moments. Anderson and Halliwell give a heart-warming performance of Mr. Someone, the duet between Lauren and Paul; and I’d Do Anything winner Jodie Prenger shows off her stunning vocal range when she closes the first act with Beautiful.
The set design by Bretta Gerecke of row of shops (mostly takeaways and cake shops) is clever and colourful. They open up like doll’s houses to expand the interiors of the buildings. She also uses the upper windows of the buildings for the ensemble to appear when joining in some of the musical numbers.
Fat Friends The Musical might not be the kind of show you see over and over again, but if you’re looking for a fun, feel-good night out then you can’t go too far wrong with what is an enjoyable production.