Sunday, 11 February 2018

REVIEW: Fat Friends the Musical at the Mayflower Theatre in Southampton

The Producers of Fat Friends must have been delighted to have created this new show. Based on the highly successful TV and film writer Kay Mellor's four season TV show of the same name which ended in March 2005 with the music written by Lloyd Webber (Nick, not Andrew) and a cast including the winner of BBC's "I'd do anything", an ITV's 2013 X Factor winner, A Channel 5 Celebrity Big Brother female winner, Curly Watts from ITV Coronation street until 2003 and a cricket legend making his musical theatre debut. Add to this a theme of female body image and media obsession with weight loss and they have created a production that is certain to generate local interest in each of its 16 city venues on tour. Judging by the full house on the opening nights of the tour at Southampton's very large Mayflower Theatre that interest is being converted into ticket sales to a largely female audience, although it was the arrival on stage of Freddie Flintoff that generated a round of applause of recognition.

Flintoff plays Kevin, the rather forlorn simple Yorkshire lad who is in love with Kelly played by Jodie Prenger, the BBC series winner. Flintoff relies on his natural charm and physical presence to carry him through the show. When he returns home from his stag do you can't help reflecting how he must be drawing on that glorious night in 2005 when he celebrated the Ashes win, if he has any memories of it! He is a great sport throughout and makes a valiant attempt in his solo number "the only fool is me" but he is no match for the trained singers around him. I hope he does not regret signing up for the long tour.

Jodie Prenger is the main character who carries the story as Kevin's fiancée and her desperate attempts to lose weight to fit her ideal wedding dress and the part is well within her capabilities although there is plenty of scope for her to have fun with the part. She sets the tone for the show in her early song "Corset song' and revels in her own body shape. She is given excellent support by X Factor winner, Sam Bailey, as her mother Betty who has until recently been successful losing weight. Kevin Kennedy, as her father Fergus who runs the local chippy, Big and Battered is also not stretched by the part and strolls through the show with a deep frown.

There is a delightful parallel romance between the Jewish Bride shop / Slimming club owner Lauren, played by Natalie Anderson and the local Christian vicar Paul, played by Jonathan Halliwell although the outcome is entirely predictable. 

The setting is simple cartoonish house fronts and the Wedding Bells shop front opens up slickly to create the fitting form interior. There is clever use of the windows in the houses for projections and opening for the chorus or characters to shout out. 

The end result is an enjoyable but cliched musical which reinforces male and
female stereotypes, fails to challenge successfully the desire for a so called perfect body shape and the comedy is too gentle and obvious to really work well. Only in the fantasy dance routine, "Chocolate" in which Kelly, Betty and TV presenter Val cavort in flowing purple gowns with huge Chocolate flakes in hand do they show what this musical might have been, a glorious celebration of outsize fun, and when they do it provides a show stopping highlight.

The production does enough to entertain its audiences and the likeable cast enjoy the relaxed and simple routines but overall could have delivered much more, challenging attitudes to body shape, or Apple users obsession with shared images and developed its comedy to drive home its messages. Nevertheless it will find an audience through its casting and central theme .

Review by Nick Wayne 

Rating: ★★★
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