Morphing from a quaint television sitcom into a tick-box musical, Fat Friends storms onto stages throughout the UK in the 2018 tour.
Kelly Stevenson (Jodie Prenger) is back and larger than life in this musical version of the early noughties TV show. As hers and Kevin's (Joel Montague) wedding day approaches, she finds her dream wedding dress – only to realise that she cannot fit into it. Not dissuaded by her dieting mum Betty (Elaine C Smith) and plucky Zumba leader Lauren (Natalie Anderson), Kelly buys the dress anyway, even though its two sizes too small. When she rushes to Betty's defense on live television, she is challenged by militant slimmer leader Julia Fleshman (Natasha Hamilton) to slim into the dress for the big day. With her dream dress and her dad's fish and chip shop at stake, Kelly can't afford not to win....but it isn't just the weight that she may end up loosing.
Nick Lloyd Webber's score is formulaic, but catchy, much like the rest of the show. Think musical and you expect love, strife, and a big song and dance, and that's exactly what you get. There is enough cheese in this show to float the Titanic.
The story is set in Headingly, a suburb of Leeds, and the stereotypes are laid on with a trowel. Everyone is poor or fat or a little bit stupid, sometimes a combination, and it is a little frustrating to have the characters in such a comic trope; but then this is not a serious affair, and at the end of the day it is a feel-good musical where everyone gets their desserts and a happily ever after.
There is a refreshingly strong message of self-respect and inner peace from our leading lady Kelly, and Jodie Prenger does seem the perfect choice for the haphazard and loveable bride-to-be. Her outright denial that she is miserable because of her weight, or that she isn't happy because of it, is empowering - and when Prenger says it, we listen. There is also a cautionary tale of yo-yo dieting and using slimming pills, which I fear will never be irrelevant, but although important it seems somewhat of a plot device in this harmlessly two-dimensional spectacle.
All round the cast have fantastic vocals and there's a nice broad showcase of their many talents. If you can watch two hours of weight loss struggles without feeling the need to diet yourself, it's harmless, energetic fun.
At the Playhouse until 21st April, 7.30pm. Saturday matinee 2.30pm