I had been looking forward to attending this world premiere at Leeds Grand Theatre, not because I realised how much it means to Kay Mellor, its writer and lyricist,or because it is a world premiere, but because of the interesting mix of actors who had been lined up over the months. I was intrigued by the prospect of seeing an X Factor winner, a cricketer and broadcaster and a couple of soap stars perform side by side. There was more to it than that, of course.
Many of you will remember the television series Fat Friends. It wasn’t something I watched, but those who did may wonder how it ended up on stage. Kay Mellor had long wanted to use the power of music and write the lyrics for one of her stories, and this one is set in Headingley, Kay’s home, so Leeds Grand Theatre was the perfect stage for the premiere. It’s a story, however, which stretches across the world with its themes of love, loss, jealousy, family and body image. It gives us a very human story using humour, pathos and lovable characters and offering a glimpse of their world. This is set against today’s epidemic of diets, social media and the unkind deception which is airbrushing, the impression being ‘Not only can you look like this, but you really should’!
The over-riding message is ‘Love who you are’, although I preferred the lyrics to Diets are Crap and intend to buy the fatfriendsthemusical.com tote bag to spread that message!
Goodness, can Jodie Prenger (Kelly) knock out a song! Had Sam Bailey similarly unleashed the power of her voice, I wonder whether it would have been the clash of the titans. As it was, Sam’s renditions were tempered, softer by contrast, and that was so right for her character, Betty, as were the songs for Natalie Anderson playing Lauren. Andrew Flintoff as Kevin surely endeared himself to the audience and, I think, to the cast and to Simon Lee, the orchestral arranger. Or was it my imagination that the volume of accompanying music was turned up when Andrew sang? Is it fanciful to think that this was a kindness for someone who can so easily tear at the heartstrings regardless of vocal ability and is rightly valued for that talent?
Special mention must be made here of Jonathan Halliwell as vicar Paul, not only for his vocals but also for his impressive dance rhythm and the chemistry he shared with Natalie; and of Karen Bruce, whose choreography worked perfectly for all of the cast members, who in turn did justice to all the moves.
It seemed to me that the entire cast had bonded; that those so much more experienced actors came together to support the relative novices – which was in itself touching; so we had the emotional storyline and another, in reality, underpinning it.
The moment when Kelly emerged from the bridal shop dressing room was particularly captivating: dressed in basque and little else, she socked it to us, as did all those similarly dressed for the hen party, all hugely contrasting with the stag night bunch, who are best described as hapless males. (O! Don’t we ladies have power!)
Finally, a very satisfying end, with a fairly predictable but no less pleasing sorting into couples, who were of course always destined to be together.
As the evening was an extra special one, with collections for Children in Need, confetti showering from the ceiling and Kay Mellor taking the stage, I thought I caught a hint of the gauche girl in the talented woman who is Kay Mellor: ‘I’ve sat in this Theatre millions of times’ she said, after one of the cast told us that Kay is ‘The loveliest person in the world’. Perhaps I’m being fanciful again, and this was just the exaggeration brought about by their excitement and adrenalin. Anyway, I hope they all had a wonderful evening – what was left of it. They had earned it!
Fat Friends – The Musical is on at Leeds Grand Theatre until 2 December. My opinion is that you shouldn’t miss this treat – big, sweet and gooey as it is. (But I will never tell you what we saw a famous name doing outside the theatre as we made our way back to the car!)
Tickets online here – leedsgrandtheatre.com/Online/FatFriends