Musical version of Fat Friends finally reaches the Leeds stage

Fat Friends The Musical has opened at Leeds Grand Theatre.
Fat Friends The Musical has opened at Leeds Grand Theatre.

Kay Mellor’s Fat Friends the Musical opened at Leeds Grand Theatre this week. So, was it worth the wait?

And was it worth Kay Mellor leaving the world she knows so well and attempting to crack it in the world of musical theatre?

In case you hadn’t guessed, I’m writing this before November 14, when the doors opened to the press and we were allowed a chance to see just what Mellor has been cooking up over the past couple of years (in between making various hit television shows).

When we meet to talk about this new venture for one of the great talents of British screenwriting, it’s the day that Mellor is in Leeds at the Grand Theatre holding open auditions for the role of Alan.

“It’s really exciting. I wanted to cast someone from Yorkshire in this role, and preferably someone from Leeds,” says Mellor. Neil Hurst is the lucky actor who landed the role of Alan in one of the most anticipated new shows of the autumn season.

What is extraordinary about Fat Friends the Musical is that it is essentially a new show by someone who has never written a musical before and it begins with an almost month-long run at one of Leeds’s biggest theatres.

Mellor is a mixture of overawed and nonplussed. “No, I’ve never written a musical before, but I have an incredible team around me and I am just really excited about turning this story into something for the stage,” she says.

“Of all the shows I’ve written, Fat Friends is the one that people ask me about the most. Still to this day people will come up to me in the street and ask me if I’m going to be bringing the show back.”

The answer is of course not, for myriad reasons. Fat Friends was broadcast on ITV for four series from 2000 to 2005. Written and created by Mellor, it was a popular and critical hit. Featuring James Corden, Ruth Jones, Alison Steadman, the TV show looked at the lives and loves of a group of friends who met via a slimming club.

Mellor feels the story was elegantly wrapped up enough to not to want to return to it. She does, however, recognise that the series touched on a subject that remains close to the nation’s hearts and stomachs. “Whoever you are, the issue of weight and body image affects you, probably now more than ever, that’s why I kept coming back to the story.”Even though she couldn’t come back to it as a piece of television, Mellor felt there was a musical in the bones of the story. “Whenever I had a bit of time, a week here or there, I would work on it. It was a little secret project just for me.”

Well, it was for a little while until she met the man who would go on to write the music for the show. Nick Lloyd-Webber, son of Andrew. “My producer suggested we meet for a chat and just see how we got on,” says Mellor. A Leeds lass from a working class home and the son of one of the richest men in British theatre. It’s an unlikely partnership, but over the past year, Mellor says, it has very simply worked a treat. “There are things he can do where he writes a piece of a music and it emotionally does something that would take me several scenes of dialogue to do,” she says.

Mellor, it becomes clear, has long admired the form of musical theatre. “I’ve often sat in there,” she says, pointing towards the Leeds Grand auditorium. “And been so moved by the stories and the music, I’ve always wondered if I could do it.”

The producers of the show knew a long time ago. After the musical finishes its month long run at the Leeds Grand, it will be heading off on a nationwide tour.

Fat Friends The Musical is at Leeds Grand Theatre until December 2.