Theatre Review: FAT FRIENDS: THE MUSICAL – Opera House, Manchester

Jodie Prenger and Andrew Flintoff in FAT FRIENDS: THE MUSICAL

Jodie Prenger and Andrew Flintoff in FAT FRIENDS: THE MUSICAL. Photo Credit: Helen Maybanks

Witty, warm and wonderfully funny, Headingley’s favourite foodie friends make a welcome return in FAT FRIENDS: THE MUSICAL

It’s hard to believe that it’s been almost 20 years since Kay Mellor’s FAT FRIENDS first hit our TV screens. It feels like only yesterday since the lives and waistlines of the Super Slimmers group captured our hearts, as well as giving Ruth Jones and James Corden their big TV breaks. Now, our favourite foodie friends return in a brand-new musical, written and directed by Mellor herself.

Based loosely on the TV show, FAT FRIENDS: THE MUSICAL follows the Headingley branch of Super Slimmers as the members are put through their Zumba paces at by lovelorn leader Lauren (Natalie Anderson). The plot focuses on the upcoming nuptials of Kelly (Jodie Prenger) and her fiancé, Kevin (Andrew Flintoff). Kelly is a dedicated non-dieter but her mum Betty (Sam Bailey) has recently lost five stone and is up for Super Slimmer of the Year. When Kelly comes to the club to support her mum, Super Slimmers founder Julie Fleshman (Natasha Hamilton) sees a PR opportunity too good to miss and offers to pay for Kelly’s wedding if she drops two sizes to get into her dream wedding dress.

Witty, warm and wonderfully funny, FAT FRIENDS: THE MUSICAL is packed full of hope, humour, love and weight loss. With its sharp dialogue, relatable charm and wicked sense of humour, Mellor’s unique writing style is unmistakably all over the show. Add in Nick Lloyd Webber’s bright, cheery and easy-on-the-ears pop score and you’re in for a super-sized treat.

Sam Bailey, Jodie Prenger, Laura Mansell and Craig Armstrong in FAT FRIENDS THE MUSICAL.

Sam Bailey, Jodie Prenger & Craig Armstrong in FAT FRIENDS: THE MUSICAL. Photo Credit: Helen-Maybanks

West End favourite Jodie Prenger steals the show as heroine Kelly, delighting the audience with her stunning vocals and fun, comedic interpretation. Sam Bailey of X FACTOR fame is equally excellent as Kelly’s mum Betty, although doesn’t look anywhere near old enough to be cast as her mother. Elsewhere, Kevin Kennedy, Rachael Wooding and Chloe Hart all deliver strong performances, while ex-Atomic Kitten singer Natasha Hamilton delivers a storming performance as Julia, the obsessive head of the slimming club.

The only real question mark is over the casting of former England cricketer Andrew “Freddie” Flintoff who makes his musical theatre debut in FAT FRIENDS: THE MUSICAL. Playing the role of Kelly’s hapless husband-to-be, Flintoff boasts a surprisingly pleasant singing voice and is certainly popular with the audience but at times looks a little uncomfortable on stage.

There are also a couple of issues with the narrative. The plot is a little thin and predictable and all the needless drama feels unnecessary at times. It also isn’t really clear which message the show is trying to push, frailing from ‘get slim and be happy’ to ‘love yourself the way you are’ in another.

That said, this is an entertaining production with plenty of charm and a plus-sized heart. If you’re a fan of the original TV series, you’re sure to enjoy FAT FRIENDS: THE MUSICAL. All in all, a feel-good night out with likeable characters and lots of laughs.

4 out of 5 stars

FAT FRIENDS: THE MUSICAL runs at Manchester’s Opera House until 24 March 2018.