BWW Review: THE SECRET DIARY OF ADRIAN MOLE AGED 13¾ - THE MUSICAL, Ambassadors Theatre
The book-series phenomenon of Adrian Mole and his diaries, also previously adapted for TV, has just rolled into the West End in musical form.
Originally produced in 2015 at the Leicester Curve, a first London run followed at the Menier Chocolate Factory in 2017, and it has now taken up residence at the Ambassadors Theatre for a limited season until October 2019.
It's a show full of 1980s vibes, and set against a gently-hinted-at-but-not-annoyingly-political backdrop of Thatcherism and royal weddings.
But the main themes are of course those of growing up. There are lovelorn teens with unrequited crushes, acne, and bullying in the form of stealing lunch money.
The action is shared between the home and school lives of Adrian Mole (on the night of this review, a nerdy yet super-likeable portrayal by Rufus Kampa).
In the former, his unspectacular parents Pauline and George (Amy Ellen Richardson and Andrew Langtree) separate after a dalliance with a somewhat sleazy neighbour, whilst his spirited grandma and faithful (raggle taggle puppet) dog provide some stability.
In the latter, new girl Pandora 'Box' Braithwaite (prim, proper, but feisty Rebecca Nardin) stirs things up amongst the boys at Neil Armstrong Comprehensive when she transfers from a posh school. Teen love triangles naturally ensue at this school where the highest form of rebellion is wearing red socks.
There's also drama at the school disco and a genuinely hilarious 'play within a play' section of an alternative nativity penned by Adrian. His infamous poetry also gets a couple of airings - after all, he is an 'intellectual'.
The book and lyrics (Jake Brunger, with music and lyrics by Pippa Cleary) crystallise the key essence of Adrian Mole very well. However, it does feel like the show goes very slightly awry for short spells in Act Two - in particular in the confrontational number between Adrian's mum and grandma (Rosemary Ashe) and a slightly bizarre dream sequence.
That aside, the songs are good if not necessarily hummably catchy, and always help to drive the narrative along. And if, like me, you're a sucker for symmetry, you'll enjoy the relationship between the opening and closing numbers.
The set is simple but effective, with the cast deftly wheeling around bits of furniture. There's also some fun use of the adult actors to fill in around the four child actors - the others being Adrian's best friend Nigel (Jeremiah Waysome) and bully Barry (Jack Gale) - in the school scenes.
This is a show that will of course appeal to those who grew up reading Adrian Mole (or watching the TV series), as well as 1980s enthusiasts. But the broad themes are universally relevant, ensuring that the show can also be enjoyed by those with no previous Mole knowledge, young and older alike.
Photo credit: Pamela Raith