Fat Friends


Edinburgh Playhouse

There’s a lot to like about Fat Friends, not least its cast of disparate characters, whose lives are all dominated – in one way or another – by the slimming club that some of them attend. It’s refreshing to see such diverse body types represented on the stage, and for the larger characters to be just as fashionable and attractive as their slimmer counterparts. It feels very human, and there’s an appealing honesty that pervades throughout.

Our protagonist is Kelly (Jodie Prenger), who enjoys living above her parents’ chip shop and doesn’t worry one jot about her weight. Why should she? She’s happily engaged to Kevin (Joel Montague), and he loves her just the way she is. She’s proud of her mum (the rather marvellous Elaine C Smith), of course – Betty has lost five stone on her weight-loss plan, and is a contender for the prestigious Slimmer of the Year award – but Kelly doesn’t feel inclined to follow her lead. Until, that is, she discovers that her dream wedding dress isn’t available in her size. Determined that her big day should be perfect, she decides there’s only one thing for it: she’ll join Lauren (Natalie Anderson)’s slimming class, and enter into a race against time to fit into the dress.

The play is written and directed by Kay Mellor, and the characters are convincingly realised. Kevin Kennedy’s turn as Kelly’s hapless father, Fergus, is most enjoyable, but this is definitely the women’s tale, and the actors make the most of these boisterous, raucous roles. Elaine C Smith is a particular delight, and Jodie Prenger leaves no one in any doubt as to why she stays in work: she’s a bold performer, commanding our attention at every turn.

It’s not a perfect musical: the lyrics are quite simplistic, and the songs tend to comment on the action rather than informing it. That said, the music is lively and engaging, and it’s all very well sung. Some of the humour is a bit bawdy for my taste (think Loose Women and you’ll be in the right territory; if you’re a fan of that, you’ll enjoy this one) but there are people laughing all around me, so that’s probably just me. I love the set – a quirky facade of tipsy windows and shop fronts, which turn to reveal what’s behind the doors (the wedding dress shop, the church hall, etc.).

All in all, this is a bit of fun, with some great performances. It’s well worth seeking out.

3.8 stars

Susan Singfield



Paper Hearts : the Musical



Underbelly Med Quad, Edinburgh

Paper Hearts is the story of Atticus Smith (Adam Small), a lowly bookshop assistant who, in his spare time, is banging away on the keys of a manual typewriter, trying to write a bestselling novel. His life takes an interesting turn when he meets and promptly falls in love with Lilly Sprockett (Gabriella Margulies), who, it transpires is working for (and having a relationship with) Atticus’s villainous Dad, Roger (David Mullen), the head honcho at mega-publishers, Random Books. Atticus and Roger have been estranged for years. When Atticus learns that his father intends to buy the bookshop – probably with the intention of turning it into luxury apartments – he starts to think that his life is ruined. But then he hears about a book competition offering a huge cash prize… a competition that is funded by Random Books.

Anybody hoping for a realistic exposé of the publishing business should look elsewhere. The plot is quite ridiculous; no publishing house in the world has ever carried on in such an unprofessional fashion. If, on the other hand, you have a liking for plaintive songs, brilliant musicianship and a shot of good old-fashioned romance, then this just might be the show for you. I sat there entranced as the ten-strong cast moved effortlessly around a stage with the general dimensions of a postage-stamp, singing, playing instruments, swapping costumes and switching roles with consummate skill. This production could have been designed purely to illustrate the meaning of the word ‘ensemble.’ Choreographer Lindsay McAllister deserves a lot of praise for making this flow so effortlessly.

I like the way the story cuts back and forth between Atticus’s own story and Angel Star, the Dr Zhivago-esque novel that he’s working so feverishly on. I loved the concept of a literary face-off between rival members of the cast and the suggestion (so true) that writers use their fiction to put right the things that never go well for them in real life. Like most others attending this packed performance, I left with a big smile on my face, humming the closing number. Which, for a show like this, is exactly as it should be.

If you like books and you like musicals, then there’s every chance that you’ll enjoy Paper Hearts just as much as I did.

4.6 stars

Philip Caveney (ahem… novelist)