Kay Mellor’s list of successes include Band of Gold, The Syndicate, In The Club and, of course, Fat Friends. As she’s a Leeds lass, we were delighted when she announced that the musical adaptation of Fat Friends is to be brought to Leeds Grand Theatre in November. Sophie Joelle sat down with her to chat about the production.
Congratulations on bringing the musical premiere of Fat Friends to Leeds! Is this the first musical you’ve collaborated on? How did the process work?
Yes, it’s the first musical that I’ve collaborated on. I came up with the idea about three or four years ago and I’ve constantly been working on it in between writing for my television series’. Then I met Josh Andrews who I’d known for a while, and we kept talking about perhaps working together. I gave him the book to read and he loved it. The next step was that he introduced me to Nick Lloyd-Webber and we hit it off straight away. I was surprised that he instantly understood my crazy world of larger than life Northern characters and their slimming group.
Did you always know you wanted the hit TV show to be a musical? What is it about the characters and plot that makes it transferable for a stage show?
I knew that Fat Friends had a life beyond British television. American television channels had been asking me to do a US version but I just wasn’t sure that I’d found the right partner. I remember that I went to see Book Of Mormon in London and thought that, really, you can say anything you want in a musical, as long as it has a clear story and characters. I think it was on the train travelling home that I thought about the characters from Fat Friends, and I wondered what they would be like now—in 2017. I took the basic premise of the plot in the television version and spun it. If you have a group of people in one location, then it’s relatively easy to transfer to theatre.
What can audience members expect from the show? Is this a show for both existing Fat Friends fans and new ones alike?
It’s a stand-alone show—if people have never seen Fat Friends, I hope they would still enjoy it. It’s a story with a beginning, middle and end. The piece has a message to it, and I hope I deliver it in an entertaining way without standing on a soap box banging my fist. For those fans of the drama, they’ll know what to expect—it’s got most of the same characters and I’ve tried to bring the same warmth, humour and pathos to the stage show that I had in the television version.
What has been the most challenging part of this process?
Undoubtedly the most challenging part of this process has been the marriage of music and drama. I realised that musicals are not written—they evolve and grow. You plant a seed, it sends out a shoot and then eventually you hope a flower will grow and people will enjoy looking at it. We’ve had three workshops, and constant meetings which is tricky as Nick lives in London and I live in Leeds. We’re forever on trains heading towards one another for the next music session.
The show is premiering in Leeds, a momentous occasion for Leeds Grand! Was it always important to you for the show to premiere in Leeds?
Leeds is my hometown. I love the city and the people in it, and it’s massively important to me that Leeds people have the chance to see it before a West End audience. The musical is set in Leeds and, in many ways, celebrates the city. It was music to my ears when Ian Sime, General Manager at Leeds Grand Theatre, asked if the show could have its world premiere here. I think I nearly fell down on my knees!
What does Yorkshire / Leeds mean to you? I saw your talk at Ilkley Lit Fest last year and you spoke so passionately about the region, it was a heart-warming discussion that really demonstrated your love for Yorkshire.
It’s true that I’m a Yorkshire lass through and through. I love our county and I will always rally behind it. I remember in my early days working in television having to explain to an executive where (geographically) Leeds was – it broke my heart. These days, everyone knows where Leeds is!
Moving away from Fat Friends for a moment, what’s coming up for you in 2017? I hear your latest project is centred around a Registry Office – is that right? What can we expect from this, and other projects?
I have a lot coming up in 2017. A Passionate Woman is on at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in early April – it’s a story about my mother and is very close to my heart. I also have Love, Lies & Records in production which will air later this year. It’s set in a Register Office and follows the life and loves of a senior registrar – Kate, played by Ashley Jensen—and the rest of the cast are from Yorkshire. Following that, I have a series called Girlfriends, which should air early in 2018. It’s about three women of a certain age and it’s funny, sad and a bit of a ‘whodunnit’—I hope people will enjoy it.
Fat Friends will be at the Leeds Grand Theatre from 11th November until 2nd December.