Fat Friends the Musical, Edinburgh Playhouse, Review:
*** 3 Stars
“Long but Fun! ”
18 years after debuting on ITV and nearly 15 years since the last episode was broadcast, Kay Mellor’s “Fat Friends” is back with all the original characters in play and this time its an all singing affair, that while trying hard never truly succeeds in delivering on the promise the original tv format displayed so brilliantly.
Returning to the same setting of Headingly in Leeds we once more enter the lives of Kelly, Kevin, Betty, Fergus, Lauren, Val, Paul and Alan as they deal with Falling in love, mid life pregnancy, divorce and of course the battle of the bulge to lose weight as they debate body image and what it means to them and the world around them.
Mellor who acts as both writer and director has tried to distil the best of the tv format into the onstage production but its heavily bloated with act 1 coming in at nearly 90 minutes and act 2 near on 75 it needs trimming down as the moral the story tries to put across becomes so muddled and lost you reach the verge of not caring which is a shame given the quality of the performances.
In the lead role of “Kelly”, Jodie Prenger delivers a performance filled with warmth, depth and gutsy vocals especially as she closes act 1 with what is the best song in the show, “Beautiful” and she succeeds in getting the emotions across bring the audience almost to tears. Joining Prenger in the role of her mother “Betty” is Scottish legend Elaine C Smith, a truly gifted comedy actress who has the ability to play straight dramatic roles, although she never really gets to shine either dramatically or comically due the direction she is given. Where Smith does come into her own is in her vocals and when she sings she soars and her rapport with Kevin Kennedy (yes, he of coronation street and we will rock you fame) is a joy to watch.
For all good musicals a baddy is needed, and former atomic kitten Natasha Hamilton delivers a true “bitch” of a performance as Julia Fleshman the owner of the slimming world franchise who will do anything at any cost to prove her “diet” plan does work. The show could actually do with more of Hamilton in it as she delivers a performance full of punch but remains side lined due to under use.
The music is composed by Nick Lloyd Webber ( yes the son of the lord himself) and while there are a couple of nice tunes, especially “ Beautiful”, “ The Only fool is me” and “Love who you are” the overall feel of the score is very samey and devoid of individual character and the show lacks the big “hook” song that so many musicals send there audiences home humming the tune too. The score is played well though by the resident orchestra under musical director Michael Bradley.
The set design by Bretta Gerecke is inventive giving the Leeds street a comic book style twist that allows the action to unfold on pop out mini sets that really takes you into heart of the action with the addition of the projection onto a screen centre stage to aid plot works well but the screen needs to be a little bigger in the huge expanse of the playhouse.
It almost feels like “Fat Friends the musical” is more a work in progress and really needs to be trimmed down in length to make it far more watchable and keep the focus on the moral of the story in clear view.
What the show does deliver though is clearly a fun night of musical theatre as the scores of ladies sitting around us were clearly enjoying it, and for bringing those ladies to the theatre those “Fat Friends” should be commended.
Kay Mellor’s Fat Friends the Musical , Playhouse Theatre Edinburgh, Until Saturday 21stth April for tickets go to www.atgtickets.com/shows/fat-friends-the-musical/edinburgh-playhouse/