Review - The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 3/4 - The Musical at the Ambassadors Theatre
Sue Townsend’s novel Adrian Mole is one that has spanned generations, from it’s first publication in the ‘80s to the TV shows that followed. But it’s probably fair to say most people under the age of 30 aren’t too acquainted with the acne-prone teenager.
That was until 2015, when Jake Brunger and Pippa Cleary give Moley a new breath of life with a musical adaptation in Leicester. After a run at the Menier Chocolate Factory two years ago, it’s making its West End premiere at the Ambassadors just in time for the summer holidays.
And it is a warm-hearted show for the family. Adults who fondly remember reading the books will take to the charm of this musical, and while children will love the silly humour, they will also see themselves in some of the characters.
It’s quite easy to compare this musical to another, playing just around the corner, based on a children’s book about an intensely clever child. And while this one is full of British charm and aimed at a slightly older audience, there are similarities in the score: a raunchy flamenco number between the mum and her lover, and an anthemic uprising song for the kids (which even uses the word “revolting”) come to mind.
Adrian is, however, slightly older than Matilda, which brings a host of more adult problems. Tom Rogers set is outlined with rulers (you’ll have to use your imagination to guess what Adrian’s measuring), and it’s very much a teenage love story as he pines for the new posh girl at school, Pandora.
But some of the most engaging moments of the show actually result from Adrian’s parents, as his mum moves to Sheffield with the man next door to “follow her dream”. It leaves Adrian feeling confused and alone, and is one of the more relatable moments for some of the children in the audience.
The hilarious John Hopkins remains in the cast form the Menier production two years ago, shooting a little slapstick and energy into the show, playing a number of characters. Lara Denning is also carried over from the Menier production as Adrian’s teacher and dad’s new girlfriend, and carries the show’s vocal abilities in many a number.
Adrian must be a difficult role to play. He’s meant to be endearing and oblivious, but he can come across as a little arrogant. Bruner and Cleary’s book stays true to Townsend’s novel as he directly addresses the audiences with lines from his diary, but this can seem a bit random, like when he’s recovering from a tonsil operation, unable to speak, but still pipes up to tell us how haggard his mum looks.
The score is predominately dialogue-driven, and there are probably a song or two that needn’t be included., however, the show does culminate in a masterful nativity scene, placenta n’ all.
The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole - The Musical tickets are available now.