Fat Friends – Review – Leeds Grand
By Sandra Callard, November 2017
Leeds-born writer Kay Mellor’s comedy drama, Fat Friends ran successfully on British television for 25 episodes from 2001 to 2005. The series, showing the joys and tribulations of a group of friends at a slimming class, has now metamorphosed into Fat Friends – The Musical.
The show stars genuine big girl singer, Jodie Prenger, in the role of Kelly, desperate to fit into her wedding dress, but failing miserably, notably due to living above the family fish and chip shop! She has a big personality that fills the stage with delight, and a voice that soars to the rafters. She is simply fantastic.
Her husband-to-be is Kevin, played by none other than broadcaster and cricketing legend, Andrew “Freddie” Flintoff. Having retired early from cricket due to a recurring knee injury, Flintoff has thrown himself into just about every unlikely activity offered to him, and usually emerged triumphant. Most people cannot even say the name ‘Freddie Flintoff’ without a smile on their faces, and the guy has done it again with his role in Fat Friends – The Musical.
He has a surprisingly pleasant singing voice, and ambles his way through the role of Kevin like a walk in the park. He is a great foil for the exuberant Prenger, and an extremely likeable character.
The two slimming gurus in the show, thin to the point of emaciation, are ex-Atomic Kitten singer Natasha Hamilton, who gives a storming performance as Julia, the obsessive head of the slimming club, and Lauren, club leader, instantly recognisable as prolific actress and singer Natalie Anderson, whose career has spanned Emmerdale to Romeo and Juliet.
As well as trying to get the world thin, I loved Lauren’s little side issue of what she should do, as a good Jewish girl, who has fallen in love with the local vicar. Priceless!
X Factor winner, Sam Bailey, is superb as successful slimmer Betty, and former Coronation Street stalwart Kevin Kennedy as husband Fergus has some good lines, executed with panache.
His outrage when Kelly’s hapless fiance Kevin sets fire to the chip shop is a classic acting gem. Kennedy is a much-underrated actor, and provides the nuances that may go unnoticed individually but which add subtlety to the overall performance.
The music is provided by Nick Lloyd Webber, of the famous composing family, and it fits in well with the storyline. We have here a set of ordinary people with a set of familiar problems, and no grand, soaring orchestration is needed. Lloyd Webber has provided catchy tunes, soft and loving ones, and rousing ones, each completely appropriate without being overwhelming.
The script and lyrics of the show have the instantly recognisable touch of writer Kay Mellor. Down-to-earth, northern humour, with a copious helping of not-too-offensive swearing, is her trade mark, but she also has that wonderfully sensitive affection for the ridiculous, as she glories in, and lovingly accepts, the imperfections of life.
This a feel-good show par excellence, with not one bad performance from either the headliners or the ensemble. It is a caricature of a familiar slice of real life that so many can identify with, and provides both wry smiles and the belly laughs.
Full house, standing ovation, smiling faces: What more do you need?
Images: Helen Maybanks