Band of Gold

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Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2

Kay Mellor’s ground-breaking drama was a huge success when it first hit TV screens back in 1995. 25 years on the action has been relocated from screen to stage while still taking its inspiration from the lives and experiences of the Northern sex workers who in order to make ends meet work ‘the lane’.

The story focuses on Gina (Sacha Parkinson), a young mother who gets drawn into the world of sex work in order to provide for her daughter and pay off ruthless loan shark Mr Moore (Joe Mallalieu). Things take a tragic turn one evening while working the lane and its down to her fellow workers to deal with the fallout while continuing to face multiple battles of their own.

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Fans of the TV series will be pleased to know that this newly developed play doesn’t sway too much from the gritty style of the much-loved TV series with Mellor’s clever wit even in the darkest of moments shining through. Her writing allows the audience glimpses of the humanity and heart of her characters while offering a fascinating insight into their working world and the dangers contained within.

Through Mellor’s multi-layered script the individual stories of the main four female leads intertwine to create a dramatic piece which draws you in and keeps you guessing. Each character feels authentic and is honestly delivered by a strong cast made up primarily of Laurie Brett (Anita), Gaynor Faye (Rose), Sacha Parkinson (Gina) and Emma Osman (Carol) each giving a convincing and real performance.

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The ladies are strongly supported by several male characters with Kieron Richardson, Shayne Ward, Andrew Dunn, Steve Garti, Joe Mallalieu and Mark Sheals all showing a high level of skill if some are a little underused. Special mention must also go to Olwen May as Gina’s mother Joyce, her heartfelt emotion feels painfully raw and is delivered with real conviction.

While Mellor’s blend of tragedy and dark humour is delivered with sensitivity there are occasions when it feels like the piece would have benefitted from holding the dramatic tension for longer rather than so often going for the laugh or quickly changing scene; at times the audience laugh at situations which would have held more impact if characters were allowed more time to breathe. While the quick pace keeps the tension high it does result in a lack of opportunity to connect with the characters on a more emotional level.

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This re-invention of Band of Gold will entertain both fans of the original TV series and those coming to it for the first time. It also feels timely as we live through continued austerity with many women struggle to provide for their families and the sad reality that there are more sex workers now than when the original stories were penned. An engaging piece of theatre delivered by a solid cast.

Band of Gold is on at the Lowry until Saturday 25th January tickets available here.

Fat Friends the Musical

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

It’s clear from the moment the curtain raises revealing a row of lycra clad bottoms that writer Kay Mellor’s intention is to deliver belly laughs and plenty of them.

Based loosely on Mellor’s hugely successful TV series which ran from 2000-2005 the show tells the story of lovable Leeds lass Kelly (Jodie Prenger) who despite being a size 20 buys a size 16 wedding dress which she WILL slim into by the time she walks up the aisle to marry nice but dim fiancé Kevin (Andrew Flintoff). An unexpected moment on live TV leaves Kelly committed to a challenge in which shady slimming guru Julia Fleshman (Natasha Hamilton) guarantees the wedding of her dreams if she completes her weight loss challenge whatever the consequences.

Prenger is perfectly cast as lead Kelly, incredibly likeable and entirely believable she brings great warmth and humour to the role portraying the perfect Yorkshire lass who just wants her happy ending. Her comedic timing is impeccable, her voice rich and pure as she puts her heart and soul into Kelly, ensuring the audience fall in love completely with this loveable lass.

Andrew Flintoff’s stage debut is impressive, receiving a roar of approval upon taking the stage he rises to the occasion as hapless Kevin desperate for fiancé Kelly to realise he loves her just the way she is.

Composer Nick Lloyd Webber’s score is uplifting and light, gelling perfectly with Mellor’s witty lyrics and offering some really memorable moments in the show, the ode to Chocolate being a particular stand out moment leaving many an audience member wishing they’d worn their waterproof mascara as tears of laughter roll down smiling faces.

Running alongside the central storyline are several other subplots which add to the depth of the piece and offer their own laugh out loud as well as tender moments too. Natalie Anderson and Jonathan Halliwell charm the audience entirely as Lauren and Paul with their ‘will they won’t they’ dilemma, Lauren being a Jewish Zumba instructor/wedding dress owner and salsa king Paul, a Vicar who can swivel his hips with more gusto than Ricky Martin.

The script is entirely relatable for anyone who has ever been on a diet (and let’s face it that pretty much covers us all). The scenes at the slimming class bring nods of familiarity and whispers of recognition from the audience as weigh-in cards are presented and slimmers de-robe before stepping onto the scales of doom.

The ensemble cast work together wonderfully creating a warm and family like atmosphere. It’s clear from the writing that Kay Mellor has an enormous amount of love for these characters, they are rich and relatable, the dialogue sharp and incredibly witty. Moving from ‘you need to be slim to be happy’ to ‘love who you are’ the message is predictable but nonetheless hugely enjoyable and entirely heart-warming.

Enormously entertaining, chock-full of laughs yet touching and tender, Fat Friends the Musical is a full-fat feast of tip-top fun!

On at the Opera House until Saturday 24th March tickets available here.