BWW Interview: Amy Ellen Richardson Talks THE SECRET DIARY OF ADRIAN MOLE
Amy Ellen Richardson's past work includes Beautiful - The Carole King Musical, Merrily We Roll Along, Les Miserables, and most recently Sweet Charity at Donmar Warehouse. She's now starring in the West End transfer of the hit British musical based on Sue Townsend's beloved Adrian Mole books.
What was the first musical you saw that inspired you?
Les Miserables at the Palace Theatre, London. I was totally swept away even at such a young age. I must have only been about nine.
Did you do much acting at school, and when did you decide you wanted to make it a career?
I've had a pull to perform ever since I was small. I knew I wanted to do this as a profession very young and started to tap dance aged two, so it was inevitable I guess!
Where did you train?
Laine Theatre Arts in Epsom, Surrey.
What was your first professional job?
When I was 10 years old, I shared the role of Young Jenny in Aspects of Love in the West End, directed by Trevor Nunn.
You've done some iconic musicals, like Les Mis, Beautiful, Merrily... What are your personal highlights?
All of them hold a special place in my heart for different reasons, and I've been so fortunate to be a part of many wonderful productions in my career thus far. But if I could do Sondheim for the rest of my life I'd be a very happy bunny.
So, as hard is it to narrow down highlights, playing The Baker's Wife in Into The Woods at the Royal Exchange and getting to cover and perform the role of Mary Flynn in Merrily were definitely two of those 'pinch me' moments. I also got to spend time with one of my icons, Stephen Sondheim, because of that, which in itself will always be one of the most treasured experiences I'll never forget.
I'm drawn to comedic characters, so getting the chance play roles like those, which also require a certain amount of pathos and heart, is really creatively satisfying for me.
Did you know the Adrian Mole books beforehand?
I was aware of them, but had never read them until now for research purposes. I was more of an Enid Blyton kind of a girl really when I was growing up!
Tell us about the premise of the show, and your character Pauline's journey
Our story follows the adolescent struggles of a teenage boy called Adrian Albert Mole, aged 13 3/4, over the course of a year. An intellectual and wannabe poet, he keeps a diary, which he writes in daily about the trials of growing up alongside his dysfunctional family with best friend Nigel, bully Barry Kent, and newfound love Pandora, in Leicester in the 1980s.
[Adrian's mum] Pauline has a really interesting journey. Being maternal doesn't come naturally to her either. Stuck in a mundane marriage to George for 20 years, she feels like a slave, trapped and taken for granted in the family home as a housewife and mother - especially in a time where women's personal aspirations were extremely suppressed.
The attitudes back then were quite different to how they are now. You were expected to stay and keep house, and getting a job was more or less out of the question. Unhappiness makes her morally confused and weakened into temptation.
So, in her yearning to break free of these things and do something for herself, she is eventually forced to make some very tough decisions, which are heart-wrenching. Decisions as a mother and wife that some people may find difficult to empathise with. My challenge is to find the warmth and humanity in her and make sure the audience follow her story with compassion, humour and understanding because of that.
The musical strikes a really good balance of the child's point of view, while also giving the adults a rich inner life. Was that part of what appealed to you about the role?
Absolutely. As an actor you always want to be challenged, and to be given the chance to play such a full-bodied character who is multifaceted and has as many flaws as Pauline does really is a gift. She goes on such a huge journey throughout the show, and I'm very excited to keep discovering her as the weeks go by.
Did you draw on anyone in particular for your take on Pauline?
I have to say I haven't drawn on anyone for this, and Pauline is very far from my own mum. As with all parts you play, there is always a certain essence of yourself in there somewhere for sure, but to have the combination of Sue Townsend's wonderfully clever books and Jake [Brunger]'s rich and sympathetic adaptation to work from is a massive bonus, and more than enough for me to be able to create a very 3D character.
Any favourite numbers or lines from the show? (I love your kitchen-based tango seduction!)
Yes, John Hopkins (Mr Lucas) and I have a lot of fun doing that number! Because this show is so moving and hilarious all at the same time, there are so many moments and lines to choose from.
I don't want to give anything away, and it's hard to quote any because they'll be out of context, but one line that always makes me chuckle is a moment when Adrian asks his Dad what "wanton" means when his Grandma is describing Pauline, and he answers with: "I don't know, son - I think it's something Chinese". Brilliant.
The Eighties elements are so well done. Did that evoke any particular memories for you?
Growing up, I have more memories of the Nineties to be honest, but when stage management brought out a genuine Woolworths carrier bag it took me right back to being a kid at the pick 'n' mix sweetie aisle! I was a massive pink shrimp and flying saucer fan. Still am...
What's it like working with the young cast?
Inspiring, joyous and I feel a huge sense of pride watching them growing in confidence as individuals and in each of their performances every day during this process. They give us all perspective, that's for sure. Heaven knows how their families are going to feel seeing them up on stage being so fantastic. They're all awesome!
Is it particularly exciting that this is a new British musical?
Incredibly exciting. I can't remember the last time there were three British musicals on in the West End at the same time. It's massively important that everybody supports new work, especially when it's been born and created on home soil! We need more of that in theatre in general, but I feel really encouraged that this is slowly changing for the better.
Finally, why should people come see Adrian Mole? And would you recommend it as a first theatre outing for younger audiences too?
I would, yes. It sounds biased, but it truly has something for everyone. This show is extra special because it relates to both the young and the old alike. Adolescence, heartbreak, friendships, relationships from all perspectives - all set to a sublime score, with one of the wittiest scripts around.
You'll belly laugh, you'll weep, and - depending on when you were born - feel a huge sense of nostalgia too! I can promise that this unique show will genuinely surprise you and totally knock your socks off. I couldn't be prouder to be a part of it.
The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 3/4 - The Musical is at the Ambassadors Theatre 15 June-12 October
Photo credit: Pamela Raith