Kay Mellor’s Fat Friends The Musical is at The Playhouse Theatre for a few nights (Thu 19 to Sat 21 April), adapting to the stage the successful television show of the same name that ran from 2000 to 2005. Has the transition worked? Well to be honest, I don’t know as I have never seen the television show, so this review is based purely on the stage show, and for me it is just not working on so many levels.
Kay Mellor is someone with serious credits to her name as a writer, actress and screen-writer, but “Fat Friends” for me, oddly enough, has a very thin story and a plot that sets the inevitable conclusion up so early on that it is difficult not to see the resolution always just around the corner. Kay is both writer and director on this production, so the thin story and plot do surprise me.
Nick Lloyd Webber is responsible for the music in this show, and again, another puzzle as an enormous talent has not given me one song that I remembered coming out of the theatre tonight, and that is always one of the marks of any successful musical for me. To be fair though, I do applaud any new musical theatre project that creates new music rather than re-cycling other music as “jukebox hits”. For too much of the time though, the format of pretty much every main cast member having to have their own musical number to sing sees them bursting spontaneously into song where it is just not required. One number though, “Chocolate”, does need a little mention for a very slick set of costume changes to create a fantasy illusion.
There are some important messages in this story though - be loved for whatever shape or size you are, believe in your own body, and of course a scathing commentary on the diet industry and in particular diet pills. Sadly, these laudable messages are at times obscured behind some other very mixed messages, and one slipping through the net a little is the obsession for not only the fat, but also the thin, to lose weight. Also interesting is the sub plot of becoming a social media phenomenon overnight and the trolling that comes with that. A huge opportunity missed here I think not to explore further the devastating effects that this behaviour on social media has on many people’s lives. This addiction to social media was so easily highlighted for me as so many people sitting in front of me had to be on their mobile phones texting and chatting the very second the show closed.
The cast here do the best they can, but for the main part our leads –Joel Montague as Kevin and Jodie Prenger as Kelly are all too often given cardboard cut-outs as characters that hit too many stereotypes for me, and their relationship is just not that interesting to me on any level. Oddly enough, the relationship between Kelly’s mother and father, Betty (Elaine C Smith taking the role instead of Sam Bailey for the Edinburgh shows) and Fergus (Kevin Kennedy) is far more interesting, particularly their little surprise in the second half. Both Elaine C Smith and Kevin Kennedy put in some nice work on this show. Alan (Neil Hurst) is another character whom we only scratch the surface of, and I wanted to know a lot more about him.
The obsession to have that “perfect and expensive” wedding dress at all costs, irrespective of your economic circumstances, and for your future to be focusing on one day only (the wedding) is also, not for me a healthy message to be sending out.
Natasha Hamilton as the slimming club boss Julia Fleshman is a villain straight out of pantomime, complete with an all too good to be true pantomime counterpart in Lauren (played by Natalie Anderson) and it is a little late in the year for pantomime.
Fat Friends misses so many opportunities here as we only get to know what our overweight cast like to eat, but not why they eat. If you like your food, are happy with your size and have no health issues associated with either, then society should not be pressuring you to conform to any unrealistic and often unobtainable role model. If you are not happy though, that is another issue, and some of our characters did not seem happy people at all and we never really got the opportunity here to explore why.
Having said all of the above, perhaps this was just not my show, and perhaps not having any affinity with the television show does not help either as many of the audience members around me were obviously having a fine night out and finding much in common with the characters and the script and obviously enjoying the musical numbers too. At the end of it all though, I am left wondering if the transition of Fat Friends from television to stage should have been a straight dramatic one and not a musical.
Review by Tom King