Photo: Pamela Raith
Watched Adrian Mole tonight. Laughed my socks off because it was dead good. Wanted to watch it all over again, but found out the cast can only do it once a night. Just my luck.
Sue Townsend’s awkward young anti-hero is still adorable. From the very first pages of her 1982 novel, Adrian’s teenage angst, intellectual aspirations and romantic longings have drawn the reader in. His guileless and hilarious diary entries have amused and delighted millions in the three decades since its first publication, and despite the novel’s ability to effortlessly capture the spirit of the 1980s, it somehow feels timeless.
This spanking new musical adaptation carries the essence of the original novel to the stage and brings the iconic characters to life. The ten strong cast includes four youngsters, and all deliver something truly exceptional. The rôle of Adrian is shared by four different actors and, at the performance viewed, Joel Fossard-Jones played the part with sensitivity and perfect comic timing. Bullied by Barry Kent, Adrian confronts him and then deftly and hilariously admits that, “A little bit of wee came out,” to roars of uncontrollable laughter from the audience.
Adrian is deeply in love with Pandora, the politically outspoken new girl at Neil Armstrong Comprehensive School. But so is his friend Nigel. When Pandora chooses Nigel and Adrian’s mother runs off with Mr ‘Creep’ Lucas from next door, Adrian and his dad are both left contemplating lost love.
It is the cast that are the true making of this show. Every single one of them puts in a flawless performance. Kirsty Hoiles, as Adrian’s mother Pauline, does seem to channel Les Miserables’ Madame Thenardier at the beginning of the show, making her seem a little too much like a caricature initially, but as we watch her character develop, her performance gains depth and genuine feeling. Her hapless husband, George, is played by Neil Ditt and, although his vocals are a little weak compared with the rest of the extremely accomplished cast, his portrayal of the rejected and redundant father is unexpectedly touching.
It is the insight into the parental relationships and the ability to see through the eyes of the other characters that takes this production beyond Townsend’s initial perspective. Hearing more voices than just Adrian’s helps to bring a greater depth to the story, even if it is not completely true to the diary form. What Jack Brunger has been careful to keep in his adaptation, however, is all those memorable lines from the original text, a great many of which he and Pippa Cleary have set to song. Adrian’s beautifully eccentric poetry sounds yet more genius when sung and the repeated refrain of “Pandora! I adore ya,” just warms the heart somehow.
Some of the musical composition seems fairly prosaic, but other numbers are simply outstanding. (Grandma) Rosemary Ashe’s performance of How Could You early in the second act is a stunning performance from a consummate professional, and the ‘experimental nativity’ number performed by the whole company is expertly choreographed by Tim Jackson. Appropriately and uproariously irreverent, the gospel vibe along with the comical lyrics and the hysterically funny birth of the baby Jesus are all magnificently memorable.
Director Luke Sheppard has definitely produced a winner here, greatly assisted by brilliant casting by Will Burton and a beautifully versatile set by Tom Rogers. It is the perfect treat to entertain the family; a show that starts well and just gets better and better until it ends – leaving you wanting to see it all over again.
Four and a half stars
I saw The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾ at Curve, Leicester on 17th March 2015
Originally written for http://www.thereviewshub.com and reproduced here with their permission