When it comes to converting favourites from television and film to stage, its fair to say that success has been mixed. Maybe it was for this reason that Kay Mellor (writer and director) ensured she was still presiding over the transition of Fat Friends from TV to stage. Fifteen years since its debut on our screens it is now re-packaged as a musical that visits MK Theatre this week.
Any slimmers in the audience on Monday night (let’s face it, that’s been all of us at some point) will have had some connection to the story and the very real battles with the bulge. In fact it is that affinity with the story Kay Mellor plays on as she carefully creates all the stereotypical characters. We have the super slimmer Betty (Sam Bailey), the ever failing slimmer Alan (Neil Hurst) and the ‘I’ll start the diet next week’ slimmer Kelly (Jodie Prenger).
The story focuses on Kelly, on the verge of marriage but unable fit into her dream dress and with bulging money troubles on the horizon after her fiancé Kevin (Joel Montague) gets the boot at work. Her mum Betty is smashing her weight loss targets at Super Slimmers and encourages Kelly to join her on the journey. Spotting an opportunity to raise the profile of her slimming scheme founder Julia Fleshman (Laura Mansell) offers to buy Kelly the dress if she loses enough weight to fit into it in time. Around this central story there is an emerging love story between Lauren (Natalie Anderson) and Paul (Jonathan Halliwell) and the story of a love lost as Alan deals with piecing his life back together after his wife leaves him.
Prenger is impressive in the central role and has loveable warmth about her, but sadly the musical numbers offered to her don’t really make the most of her belting vocal ability. Bailey pleasantly surprises with her acting and pulls off a fine Yorkshire accent. Special mention needs to be given to Mansell who was understudying the role of Julia Fleshman due to the absence of Natasha Hamilton. Mansell was deliciously vile as the self obsessed Fleshman and took to the role with ease. Unusually for a Kay Mellor piece there wasn’t great emotional tug to each character and this did leave me a bit disappointed, however Anderson and Halliwell did manage this with their portrayal of Lauren and Paul.
I guess the most vital thing anyone reading this review wants to know is did it all work as a musical? Sadly, I don’t think it did. True, there is potential and in time it will improve. The biggest disappointment was that so few of the songs were memorable. Mellor herself says in the programme that she wants “people to go out singing the songs” but I would have to ask if that truly happened on Monday night. Nick Lloyd Webber has composed a score of music that seems to play for laughs rather than a memorable vocal, which is a real shame given the cast ability. There is one standout song in the piece for me as Bailey, Prenger and Chloe Hart (Val) sing ‘Chocolate’. It isn’t necessarily the vocal that is memorable, more the humorous choreography that my eyes can never unsee!
All in all, Fat Friends is perfectly watchable and will entertain many. Inevitably as with any new musical it does need to ‘shape up’ a little though. Right now the show yo yo’s up and down like most of the dieters its story features and doesn’t ever truly hit the high notes you want it to as a musical. Just like I tell myself every week when I step on the scale… “Work in progress”.