The musical version of Sue Townsend’s The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 3⁄4 premiered this week in Leicester. Daisy Leverington took a look.
Curve Theatre in the heart of Leicester is a leading light where new musicals are concerned. It’s grasped the opportunity to stage one of my all time favourite books so I re-read Sue Townsend’s fantastic novel and dragged my musical hating husband along to see the sometimes tricky transfer from page to stage.
The set is incredible. Enormous pieces of stationery make up the Moles’ cul-de-sac. Each house is larger than my old flat in London. Torn out pages from Adrian’s diary litter the backdrop as if we are inside his story.
Young Adrian (played on this occasion by Joel Fossard-Jones) opened the show to enormous applause, clearly able to carry such a huge role. The Adrian from my childhood seemed older; more awkward than this self-assured young ‘un but perhaps that is more to do with my rose-tinted specs than a casting decision.
The show races on in a flurry of huge musical numbers and the odd bit of exposition in the form of Mr Lucas, the lothario from down the road who is knocking off Adrian’s mum; Grandma, whose eyeshadow could have a show of its own, and the brilliant George Mole: Adrian’s put-upon dad.
All our favourite characters are there: Adrian’s best mate Nigel, Pandora Braithwaite, Bert Baxter, the old fella Adrian is tasked with looking after and – of course – the dog.
The breakneck pace of the first act means there is little time for Adrian’s teenage angst to connect with the audience. The confidence with which he flies through his song and dance numbers belies the awkwardness of the original diary entries.
Book Adrian and stage Adrian are quite different and I think that’s why I struggled to love the show. There’s no doubt that the cast are superb: particularly Adrian’s parents who add some much needed pathos to an otherwise happy musical.
Pandora (Imogen Gurney) is clearly on the road to the West End and everyone has a game bash at a Leicester accent with varying degree of success. However, while the characters in the book seemed real, the characters on the stage felt more like caricatures with the odd ’80s reference thrown in like a throwaway gag in a Peter Kay routine (the mere mention of C&A sent the audience into fits of laughter).
The book captured the sadness of parental separation, the Thatcher years and the utter horror of puberty. In the musical version they are presented as upbeat and played for laughs and I’m not sure it works.
There are, however, some moments of brilliance. The song Perfect Mother left me misty eyed and there’s a nativity scene involving an umbilical cord that had me laughing like a loon. The choreography and set changes are tighter than Mr Lucas’s chinos and the cast are clearly having a ball.
It’s a real crowd pleaser but not for the same reasons as the book. It feels like someone chucked a great young adult novel into a mixing bowl with Matilda, Billy Elliot, Avenue Q and Les Mis. It could transfer to the West End or tour nationally and be a crowd-pleasing success; maybe with the addition of the words ‘based on’ before the title.
● The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 3⁄4 The Musical, directed by Luke Sheppard, is at the Curve Theatre, Leicester until Saturday 4 April.759 Views
Daisy Leverington - Actor, mother, expert at winging it.