Matilda, watch out for there is a new kid on the musical block: Adrian Mole. The rivalry between these two shows which puts a girl and a boy respectively centre stage is set to become a must-see compare and contrast experience. Intriguingly, a male writer (Roald Dahl 1916-1990) has written a wonderful part for a girl and a female writer (Sue Townsend 1946-2014) has written the definitive portrait of a teenage boy. Based on her best-selling novel of 1981, the musical version directed by Luke Sheppard with book, music and lyrics from Jake Brunger and Pipa Cleary succeeds on every level. Above all, this is a comic musical. Sue Townsend’s wit and humour have been recreated brilliantly. The set is framed by a ruler in inches nodding not only to Adrian’s school days but to his obsession with measuring his member. Adrian’s teenage angst (spots, girls and the size of his member) and his observations that he notes in his diary provide the drive and energy for this outstandingly joyous and wonderfully entertaining musical.
Adrian (Rufus Kampa is superb) is a bespectacled and spotty teenager who fears that he is becoming an intellectual. He keeps a diary, writes poetry which he sends to the BBC, Radio 4 of course. We find Adrian endearing because his diary entries are so funny and yet touching at the same time. Of course, the running joke throughout the evening is that his secret diary is no such thing, we all know what’s in it. The musical is a sexual awakening and rite of passage in which Adrian falls in love with Pandora (I adore ya), sees his parents divorce, survive the traumas of secondary school, find recognition as a writer and comes full circle as his parents reconcile. Each episode is brought to life in 18 terrific song and dance routines from a stunningly talented company. This is a ten-hander in which every actor is superb. Rebecca Nardin the Pony riding Pandora is outstandingly impressive. The class nuances are subtly sketched in. Pandora has transferred to the local Comp from the private High School for Girl’s, her dads an accountant but redeems himself by reading The Guardian. Showing a maturity way beyond her chronological age she is spot on as the blonde bombshell who Adrian pines for “Look at that Girl”. Her love of riding and Adrian’s feelings of yearning desire are hilariously mocked in the advice he gets from the communist pensioner Bert Baxter (Ian Talbot) “slap-em, whip em and ride-em“. John Hopkins as the randy next door neighbour Mr Lucas who lusts after Adrian’s mum Pauline is superb. He steals the show in every scene he’s in. “In Begging Me For More”, he seduces Pauline with a tango in the kitchen which is worth the entrance price alone. The lyrics contain some wonderful jokes and one-liners e.g. “We’ll save the NHS and dress the homeless in BHS”. The lyricists have done a marvellous job of keeping two balls in play throughout. The playfulness and the pain are kept in balance so that the Scylla and Charybdis of kitsch and sentimentality are skilfully skirted. The playfulness comes to a comic crescendo in the brilliant “New Best Frind” in which the brassy “Dirty Doreen Slater” (Lara Denning, who is wonderful) cavorts around the kitchen with a bewildered Adrian in tow. The show reaches its most heartfelt climax in the duet “I Miss Our Life” in which Adrian’s parents Pauline and George (Andrew Langtree) reminisce, remember and recall what first drew them together.
Sue Townsend’s genius was to imagine herself into the mind of a teenage boy. A double achievement as she was in her mid-thirties when she started it. The books have become much-loved and much read comedy classics. This musical version does them more than justice. It brings them vividly to life. The acting is right out of the top draw. The lyrics are fresh, funny and fitting. The singing is clear, crisp and colourful. The set is inventive and playful. The show is entertaining, exhilarating and enthralling. As I said at the top of the piece: Matilda, in Adrian Mole 13 ¾ you have a formidable rival.
Review by John O’Brien
Move over Cats – It’s time for a mole!
This joyous new musical adaptation of Sue Townsend‘s best-selling book The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾ -The Musical arrives in London for a strictly limited season!
A timeless tale of teenage angst, family struggles and unrequited love, told through the eyes of tortured poet and misunderstood intellectual Adrian Mole. One of the most enduring comedy characters of all time, he’s the hapless, hilarious, spotty teenager who captured the zeitgeist of 1980s Britain.
With an infectious score and a script as sidesplittingly outrageous as the original novel, this critically acclaimed production brings Adrian’s story to life for a new generation of theatregoers.
Adrian – Nicholas Antoniou-Tibbitts, Aaron Gelkoff, Michael Hawkins and Rufus Kampa
Pandora – Molly May Gibson, Matilda Hopkins, Rebecca Nardin and Riya Vyas
Barry – Jack Gale, Aaron Shaw, Charlie Stripp and Kobi Watson,
Nigel – Regan Garcia, Albert Green, Cuba Kamanu and Jeremiah Davan Waysome
Rosemary Ashe as Grandma
Ian Talbot OBE as Bert Baxtor
John Hopkins as Mr Lucas / Mr Scruton
Lara Denning as Miss Elf / Doreen Slater
Andrew Langtree as George
Amy Ellen Richardson as Pauline
Book and lyrics: Jake Brunger
Music and lyrics: Pippa Cleary
Director: Luke Sheppard
Choreography: Rebecca Howell
Costume: Tom Rogers
Design: Tom Rogers
Lighting: Howard Hudson
Sound: Greg Clarke
The Secret Diary Of Adrian Mole – The Musical
Ambassadors Theatre, London