FatBusters the Musical continues at St Giles-in-the-Fields, London until 10 June.
Star rating: three stars ★ ★ ★ ✩ ✩
A weight-loss class or group attracts people disparately. The dynamic as they ‘bond’ has such strong theatrical potential that it’s surprising that (to my knowledge) no one has tapped into this rich field before.
Clearly inspired by Weight Watchers, Slimming World et al, Fat Busters is a commercial company that exists to help people lose weight – but in this case the leader (Fiona, played by Yvette Robinson) is a whining, self-interested bully doing her class – all of them vulnerable in their different ways – no good at all.
The characters and mindsets are well observed in Rebecca Westberry’s production, and the piece is very funny. Those attending include fragile, camp Nigel (Ian Parkin – excellent); Shani Cantor’s Saskia (nice character acting) who does amdram hilariously badly; and Tiffany Parker’s intelligent, articulate and hurt Helen.
These people are at the class voluntarily, but are all wary of Fiona – with her whining twang and rapid mood changes – and the ruthless ethos of the company they’ve signed up to.
There is nothing supportive here for any of them, except in the company of each other, and that’s what makes this piece feel quite joyful as the action moves step by step from early January and new year resolutions round to the next Christmas.
There’s some commendable singing from the cast of 12, especially from Parker and Kate Playdon, and the a cappella chorale in the first half is a highspot.
I also admire the sound that Sonum Batra’s four-piece band, especially the saxophonist, is producing from the pit, which is actually the south side chapel under the ionic columns in this rather lovely 18th century church.
So FatBusters The Musical (music, book and lyrics by Joshua Coley) is a show with plenty going for it, although it needs a lot more work.
There is a problem, for example, with sound. Much of the spoken dialogue by the women, mostly in strong West Midlands accents, is delivered so naturistically fast that it gets lost in the church acoustic and becomes inaudible. The men are easier to hear because of their deeper pitch.
I am uneasy about the danced dreamed sequences too, competently as Joanna Gregory and Samuel Bailey perform them. They feel a bit bolted on: if you have two fine dancers in your ensemble then you might as well give them something to do? It doesn’t advance the action, I’m afraid.
Moreover, although there’s a single strong love story, there are too many narrative strands. That leaves the whole feeling a bit bitty and busy.