It would take a self-confessed individual like Adrian Mole (Michael Hawkins at the performance I attended, the role shared with Aaron Gelkoff, Nicholas Antoniou-Tibbitts and Rufus Kampa) to point out that The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾ can’t really be that secret if it was published, and (in no particular order) made into a radio series, a television series, a play and now a musical. This is an adaptation of the first book, and not of the whole ‘Adrian Mole’ book series, and as far as adaptations go, it’s a largely faithful rendering of its source material.
There are things that are said that are lacking in what some would call political correctness – to put it another way, some of the punchlines in the show, lifted from the diary entries, have not necessarily aged well a generation on from 1981-82, though some in the audience clearly found the rather forthright views expressed amusing, and I suppose there is a certain ridiculousness to outdated opinions that couldn’t be taken seriously in this day and age. But the show knows its limits – we are not introduced, for instance, to the Singh family (and thus to Adrian’s father George’s (Andrew Langtree) inappropriate stance towards them). That said, there is a case to answer in terms of on-stage diversity, of which this production would have been deprived but for colour-blind casting amongst the children in the company.
There are whiffs of nostalgia that drift across the auditorium as, for instance, the marriage of The Prince of Wales to Lady Diana Spencer is not only noted but given its own song, ‘Royal Wedding’, and names like the writer Malcolm Muggeridge and the BBC radio director John Tydeman are referenced, the latter having commissioned a script for ‘Mole’ writer Sue Townsend (1946-2014), first broadcast on Radio 4 on 5th January 1982, which eventually led to the book being published later that same year. As far as this production concerned, a lot of pulling and pushing goes on during the evening’s proceedings, as scenes shift quickly between various front rooms and Adrian’s school, and the show does almost everything short of holding a large sign up saying “This Is The Eighties!” to denote the time period, including references to Margaret Thatcher and a punchline about typos in
‘The Nativity’ brings the house down, an alternative and bizarre (if amusing) take, written by Mole, on the traditional Christmas story – there are no vacancies, ‘Joseph’ is told, because “Jerusalem is playing Man U”. Your guess is as good as mine with regards to why that would affect room bookings in Bethlehem, but the salient point is that Mole is of an age where things are more than a little muddled. Completing the child characters are classmates Nigel (Cuba Kamanu at the performance I attended, the role shared with Albert Green, Jeremiah Waysome and Regan Garcia) and Pandora Braithwaite (Matilda Hopkins at the performance I attended, the role shared with Molly-May Gibson, Rebecca Nardin and Rita Vyas), plus classroom bully Barry Kent (Charlie Stripp at the performance I attended, the role shared with Aaron Shaw, Jack Gale and Kobi Watson).
The musical numbers are more than sufficiently varied, backed by a six-member orchestra led by Mark Collins, and for all the youthful exuberance that one would expect from a show like this, there’s angry passion in ‘How Could You?’ and amicable poignancy in ‘I Miss Our Life’. To create the feel of a classroom, the adult actors are pressed into service as pupils. Perhaps it shouldn’t work, but it does, as does the doubling up of John Hopkins, reprising his roles from the 2017 Menier Chocolate Factory run as Mr Lucas, the impressionable third person in his (Mole’s) parents’ marriage and Mr Scruton, the school headmaster (not entirely unlike Trunchbull in Matilda The Musical).
Because the adult characters are, for the most part, far from mere caricatures, it has immense appeal to people across the generations, even if some of its hard-hitting content and a two hours and twenty minutes running time makes it a tad unsuitable for the very youngest of audience members. An enjoyable and entertaining musical.
Set in 1980s Leicester, this adaptation of Sue Townsend‘s best-selling book is 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 is the hapless, hilarious, spotty teenager who captured the zeitgeist of 1980s Britain, and this critically acclaimed production brings Adrian’s story to life for a new generation of theatregoers.
“Honestly. My family just don’t understand me. Perhaps when I am famous and my diary is discovered people will understand the torment of being a 13¾ year-old intellectual” Adrian Mole.
The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole aged 13¾ – The Musical has choreography by Rebecca Howell, set and costume design by Tom Rogers, lighting design by Howard Hudson, sound design by Gregory Clarke, musical direction by Mark Collins, musical supervision & orchestrations by Paul Herbert, children’s casting by Jo Hawes CDG and additional casting by Ellie Collyer-Bristow CDG.
Nicholas Antoniou-Tibbitts from Westminster, Aaron Gelkoff from Redbridge, Michael Hawkins from Haringey and Rufus Kampa from Buckinghamshire will alternate the role of Adrian. Molly May Gibson from Kent, Matilda Hopkins from Buckinghamshire, Rebecca Nardin from Surrey and Riya Vyas from Richmond will alternate the role of Pandora. Jack Gale from Hertfordshire, Aaron Shaw from Hertfordshire, Charlie Stripp from West Sussex and Kobi Watson from Croydon will alternate the role of Barry. Regan Garcia from Bexley, Albert Green from Buckinghamshire, Cuba Kamanu from Cambridge and Jeremiah Davan Waysome from Newham will alternate the role of Nigel. All children in the cast are between the ages of 12 – 14 years old.
Sue Townsend’s The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole aged 13¾ – The Musical
15 June – 12 October 2019
Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes (including interval)
London, WC2H 9ND