- United Kingdom Critic
Diets, they're a nightmare, aren't they? We all struggle to lose a few pounds. It's a topic which resonates with millions around the world. But how would it work weaved into the main plot of a musical? Well, Kay Mellor's stage musical adaption of her noughties TV show, Fat Friends has diet and weight loss at the heart of its storyline. But does it work as a piece of theatre? I headed along to the UK's biggest theatre, the Edinburgh Playhouse to find out.
This comical story follows Kelly, a rather large woman from Headingley, in Leeds. She is preparing for her wedding however is struggling to fit into her wedding dress. After slagging off her mother's weight loss programme, the executive of the programme, Julia Fleshman, challenges Kelly to lose enough weight to fit into her wedding dress. Her reward will be that Julia will pay for the dress and the wedding. Also thrown into plot is themes of family, friends, body image, food and relationships.
Jodie Prenger plays the hero of this story, Kelly. Prenger's brilliant characterisation of Kelly is quirky, sassy and hilarious. Also, the vocal talent that Jodie holds is brilliant, she effortlessly glides through the score. Playing Betty, Kelly's mother, is none other than Scottish showbiz royalty, Elaine C. Smith. Her portrayal of this caring mother is honest, funny and with Elaine's hauntingly stunning voice, she is by far one of the standout talents in this production.
Kevin Kennedy plays Fergus, Betty's husband, who maybe stern, but with Kennedy's natural acting ability he manages to convey the character in a way which the audience understands and can relate to. Also, his musical number is rather comical and Kennedy's portrayal adds to the stylisation of the overall production. The last member of the family is Joanne, played by Rachel Wooding. She portrayed this snappy, lippy, no-nonsense character hysterically. Also, she portrayed the character of a nervous disposition, Pippa (Julia's assistant), amazingly as well, two completely contrasting characters nailed by Rachel. The one flaw I have is, I know for a fact Rachel's voice could blow the roof off of the Edinburgh Playhouse, so why was it not used? Well actually, it was, but for ten seconds during the finale where she belted an incredible rift to end the show, but I wanted more!
Natasha Hamilton as Julia Fleshman was outstanding. I was worried how in depth her acting ability would be as she was solely a music artist before this musical. However, her sly and devilish characterisation of this villain was great to watch. And one of my favourite numbers in the show, 'Stinking Rich' was performed with such energy and great vocal technique. Natalie Anderson played Lauren, the leader of the fitness class plus the Zumba class and the owner of the Wedding outfits shop. Her characterisation was sweet and naturalistic, she made this character seem like a normal British woman making her way through life, which is not something we see in musicals often. It was great to watch. Also, her singing ability was very impressive.
Joel Montague played Kevin, Kelly's other half, who is a bit ditsy and clumsy. I feel Joel's performance was good, he gave some good comic moments and the dynamic between him and Jodie was very believable. Also, a notable comic performance was Neil Hurst as Alan, very funny portrayal of a character which has life going in a bad direction.
Kay Mellor directs, writes and also provides the lyrics for this production. I feel that the direction and script for this musical were fairly strong. There are a few loose ends which I feel were not rounded off well and just used as a comic device, but it left the story hanging in the balance as the curtain went down. Brenda Gerecke's costume and set design are really effective. It makes Mellor's aimed small community feel real.
The one thing that I feel needs improving for this production is the music. Composed by Nick Lloyd Webber, with the lyrics provided by Kay, the upbeat numbers really work, especially with fantastic vocal work from the ensemble and leads. However, the romantic/sad songs are structured too close together with no real context and make the show fall flat. There is an exception, "Beautiful" does work and raises the theme of body image but apart from that, the more slow songs of the piece all merge into one.
This musical is absolute madness, it's fun, cheesy and has a GREAT cast. It is like the British equivalent to Hairspray. It is an audience-pleasing musical. However, with that said, the music featured, unfortunately, is not memorable and doesn't fall in line with the quality of the production's script and direction. Therefore, I rate this production 3.5/5 stars.
PLEASE NOTE THAT ELAINE C. SMITH WILL BE REPLACED BY SAM BAILEY IN OTHER VENUE.
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