The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13¾: The Musical

Jake Bringer and Pippa Cleary
Made At Curve
Ambassadors Theatre

Sue Townsend's The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13¾: The Musical Credit: Pamela Raith
“Perhaps when I am famous and my diary is discovered people will understand the torment of being a 13¾-year-old undiscovered intellectual.”

By the end of the show, we’re certainly left feeling as though we’ve walked in the shoes of the loveably wacky and intellectual Adrian Mole. Capturing all of the wit and verve of Sue Townsend’s writing, this joyous show is just as funny and poignant for adults as it is for children. Led by a talented young cast brimming with energy, The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole thoroughly deserves its place in the West End.

When young writers Jake Brunger and Pippa Cleary set out to adapt the 1980s books into a musical in 2012, they were struck by how much this story of the growing pains of an awkward teenager from Leicester still resonate today. There are plenty of dated references to Thatcher’s government, Prince Charles and Diana, and '80s fashion, but people can still acutely relate to the torment of first love and teenage spots and a marriage breakdown which reverberates through the whole family.

In fact, the writers turn the age of the novel to their advantage with some humorous and pointed nods to the present. We know Prince Charles and Diana’s fairytale wedding turns out not to be the model marriage Adrian believes it to be, whilst the dreams he shares with his feminist girlfriend Pandora for a fairer society speak very much to the ongoing campaigns for gender, class and racial equality.

Luke Sheppard’s production is fast-paced with some clever staging and excellent choreography from Rebecca Howell. Doing justice to such a well-loved classic text is no mean feat, but Brunger and Cleary’s score does exactly that. There are plenty of comic and upbeat numbers, but also some heartfelt ballads from Adrian’s parents and grandmother, which get at the tragedy of this very normal family drama. The live orchestra also doubles as the school band in Adrian’s unconventional nativity play.

The 16 child actors who rotate in the roles of Adrian, his friends and the school bully really are centre-stage and carry the show with their energy and enthusiasm. Rufus Kampa captures the character of Adrian perfectly, while Jeremiah Waysome is also very convincing as his somewhat cooler but less clued-up best friend Nigel. Rebecca Nardin gives a very polished performance as the powerful Pandora, whilst Jack Gale is very entertaining in the role of the neglected kid-turned-thug, Barry.

There are also some great comedy performances from Adrian’s parents' love-interests—the sleazy neighbour Mr Lucas and ‘Dirty Doreen’—as well as the communist OAP Bert, played by veteran actor Ian Talbot. Rosemary Ashe as Adrian’s matriarchal grandmother is an excellent foil to Adrian’s mother, carrying her own hurt and guilt about her relationship with her son.

Who knows what Sue Townsend would have made of the end product, but if the sign of a good comedy musical is the audience’s reaction, then it certainly delivered with plenty of belly laughs throughout.

Reviewer: Hollie Goodall

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