The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13¾ – The Musical continues at Curve Leicester until 4 April.
Star rating: 4 stars ★ ★ ★ ★
Child actors who win plum parts like these are always going to be good, but 14-year old Joel Fossard-Jones – one of four Adrian Moles recruited for this world premiere production – has the audience on its feet in mass and spontaneous tribute. Both he and Imogen Gurney (Pandora for the press night performance) are already seasoned performers and hold the stage with an ease and confidence far beyond their early teenage years.
It’s a robust and energetic production that can move in seconds from hilarity to poignancy. Faithfully capturing the spirit of the age depicted in Sue Townsend’s 1982 best-seller, Tom Rogers’ cul-de-sac set has tall, narrow, slightly crazily angled houses, with scenery elements cheerfully pushed on and off by the cast members themselves. There are just ten of them in all, the adults doubling with comic effect as children in key scenes like the classroom, the red revolution and the anarchic, outrageous school nativity. Samuel Small played Nigel and Harrison Slater the bullying Barry Kent for this performance.
Script and lyrics skilfully use and interweave the words of the original and the music is edgy, impudent and syncopated. Rosemary Ashe as Grandma gets the best and most memorable number, ‘How Could You’, a vituperative and operatically delivered challenge to Adrian’s renegade mother, Pauline (Kirsty Hoiles). The full company number, ‘If You’d Lived’, in the hospital scene where Adrian is hallucinating after tonsils surgery, is a joy (choreography by Tim Jackson). Managing to sing comic lyrics as though they are serious – because that’s how the diary reads – is an art the whole cast and the four children in particular have perfected.
Strong individual performances come from Neil Ditt as George Mole; Amy Booth-Steel as the schoolteacher Miss Elf, Doreen (Dirty Doreen) Slater and Mrs Lucas; and Neil Salvage as Bert Baxter. Cameron Blakely excels as both Mr Lucas and the irascible headmaster, Mr Scruton, bellowing from the theatre’s upper gallery. His deliciously loathsome creep Lucas is the archetypal medallion man. Every movement has an exaggerated and practised sinuousness and he can even gyrate in a crouching position.
There’s a point at which, with things at their lowest ebb after Pauline’s desertion, Adrian is lying in the dog’s basket and George sitting dejectedly at the kitchen table. It’s one of many moments that unexpectedly tug at the heartstrings and remind us how badly behaved the adults are in Adrian Mole’s world and how vulnerable and resilient the children.
Jake Brunger (book and lyrics) and Pippa Cleary (music and lyrics) are to be congratulated. It’s a stormingly good production, directed by Luke Sheppard, and if it doesn’t get to the West End, I’ll eat my (school) hat.
Readers may also be interested in:
Interview – Jake Brunger and Pippa Cleary on making Adrian Mole into a musical