friends cast

Fat Friends – The Musical

The New Alexandra Theatre


Let’s hear it for curves is the message from the well upholstered Kelly with her declaration that fat is fabulous in this fun wobble into the world of slimming clubs.

Kay Mellor has returned to her Leeds roots with this musical based on her TV drama series from the early noughties and taken full charge, writing book, lyrics and directing.

The result is a fun, if somewhat predictable tale of Kelly, played with sparkling humour by Jodie Prenger, who has a lovely sense of timing and comedy, and, we discover, a good singing voice. Kelly's heart is set on a particular wedding dress for her big day in six weeks time.

The only problem being that she and the largest size of the dress are, should we say, incompatible, there being rather more of her than there is of it. Thus the battle of the bulge is on to be in the dress for her big day and her marriage to Kevin.

And a big day it is for Kevin as well, or at least for Freddie Flintoff, making his stage debut. In my days as a sports writer I interviewed England cricket star Freddie when he came to coach youngster in Brum and he is a lovely bloke, all of which comes over on stage.

Our Kev is a useless lump but Freddie makes him a very likeable, personable, useless lump. His accent might be a bit more Lanky than Leeds – but folks from down south won’t know, we northerners all sound the same to them.

All right Freddie might have quite some way to go before he tries his hand at Hamlet, and dancing is not his forte, but he acts with a twinkle in his eye and a great sense of fun – and the audience love him. He even has a pleasant enough singing voice in the mid-range but, should we say, he gets quite a lot of movement off the seam on high notes and in the lower register.


Kevin, played by Andrew Flintoff, the lovelorn, useless lump of a fiancee

Kevin and Kelly is love story No 1, meanwhile we have Lauren, played by Natalie Anderson, perhaps best known as Alicia in Emmerdale and Paul, the local, trendy vicar, played by Jonathan Halliwell.

She is a 30-something Jewish virgin trying to deny she has fallen for him and he gets tongue tied whenever he is alone with her. No prizes for guessing the outcome in the finale there. The pair have a couple of sad romantic duets which are among the musical highlights.

Prenger had another with a heartfelt Beautiful, just a poignant need to feel beautiful once in a while.

The songs in general, music by Nick Lloyd Webber, son of Andrew, are light and frothy, with some fun, jokey, and at times rude lyrics, which help to move things along. They have their foot tapping moments but nothing lingers in the mind once you walk out into the cold, night air.

Lauren runs not only the dress shop but the local slimming club in the church hall, which is the backdrop for hordes of fat jokes and a glimpse into the calorie free world of organised slimming with its weekly weigh-in.

The club comes under the corporate banner of thin guru Julia Fleshman, played by ex-Atomic Kitten Natasha Hamiliton, who seems to be having a great time as a stuck-up madam, who finds Headingley as almost a third world outcrop, and who sees Kelly as a chance for free publicity.

She offers to pay for the entire wedding, including the £2,000 dress . . . but only if she can get into it by wedding day. And with her slimming club reputation at stake, she offers to help out with some under hand, under the counter methods.


Natalie Anderson as Lauren, Rachael Wooding as Joanne, Jodie Prenger as Kelly and Sam Bailey as Betty - and that dress. Picture: Helen Maybanks

A nicely over the top baddy. Not quite sure why we had to have a double up on Kelly’ sister Joanne and Julia’s dim assistant Pippa though, with Doncaster born Rachel Wooding doing a fine job in both roles.

Kevin Kennedy, best known as Curly Watts in Coronation Street, is a delight as owner of the local Chippy Fergus. Kennedy has a long and distinguished career beyond TV and revels in the role of Kelly’s grumpy dad with The X-factor’s Sam Bailey fussing around as mum Betty – and showing a fine voice.

Then we have weighing in, literally in this case, Look North presenter Val, played by Chloe Hart, another enticed to lose weight, and then, fighting a losing battle against the temptations of curry, chips and pretty much anything else fried and battered, we have Alan, played by Neil Hurst.

Bretta Gerecke’s setting and design is clever with walls that swivel or open to change scenes in moments and a couple of times it allows the clever use of windows up to attic level for heads to pop out as a chorus.

Well known choreographer Karen Bruce produced competent if unspectacular routines but then again this was a somewhat unfit, overweight slimming club at a Zumba class, so we would hardly expect West Side Story dancers, but we did get a hard working and, should we say, curvy ensemble.

The seven piece band under musical director Michael Bradley were nice and tight and sounded good with a happy pop feel to keep things moving along.

The first act suffered from a somewhat unbalanced and rather muddied sound, parts of some songs unintelligible, but that is an occupational hazard of touring with first nights in new theatres where all the sound settings are thrown out by the arrival of a sound absorbing audience, but that was adjusted and improved for the second act and will be no doubt tweaked again.

As a musical it is what it is, amiable and fun. It won’t set the world alight and it will need quite some work if it is to have any future in the West End, but its target audience didn’t care.

That seems to be 20-something to middle aged women on a girl’s night out, women who I suspect have all been members of slimming clubs at one time and another or tried endless diet plans and fads in the battle of the bulge – and they loved it. The cheers for Flintoff when he walked on stage set the tone with an enthusiastic standing ovation at the end. A near full house had had a good night out, and you can’t ask for more than that. To 07-04-18

Roger Clarke


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