StageScan Pick: The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13¾

The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13¾ at the Menier Chocolate Factory scored a 4.3 average pro rating, including two fives. Fiona Mountford (ES) hailed “that rarest of beasts, a perfectly realised new British musical”, suggesting Jake Brunger and Pippa Cleary “have taken Sue Townsend’s much-loved anguished adolescent… and made him the beating heart of a warmly appealing bulletin from more innocent times”. Paul Vale (The Stage) thought “one of the most exciting musical theatre writing teams working in the UK today” had “risen to the challenge” of what “must be a hugely daunting task”, and felt their show “succinctly captures the essence” of the book. Michael Billington (Guardian) regretted the inevitable loss of “some of the deliciously Pooterish detail” and occasionally missed “Townsend’s wry tone” but found the creators “have carefully preserved the period of the original”. Mounford worried the audience for it might be too specific, but suggested ““surely anyone who has ever been a teenager will find much to relate to”. Andrzej Lukowski (Time Out), admitting limited knowledge of the novel, found it “an unbridled hoot”.

He praised Luke Sheppard’s “galloping production” for its “exuberantly absurdist humour”, Billington found it “swift, lively” and Mountford said it “fizzes with pep and verve”. She admired Tom Rogers’s “delightfully flexible design” while Lukowski saw him have “a huge amount of fun” with the ‘80s setting. Vale enjoyed Cleary’s “playful score and lyrics”, Billington appreciated songs that “drive the action rather than impede it”, and Lukowski reported “jolly pastiches” which Mountford found “memorable, hummable”.

Vale was among several suggesting “The richly talented ensemble is key” to its “ultimate success”. He praise the “slick team” of Benjamin Lewis (Adrian), Asha Banks (Pandora) and Amir Wilson (Nigel) for “astonishingly mature, witty and articulate performances”.  Mountford felt Lewis and Banks “could not be better suited to the roles”, and, since three sets of young performers share the leads, added: “I can only hope the others are half as good”. Billington saw in Lewis “the perfect blend of owlish solemnity and adolescent vulnerability” adding that he “sings and dances very well”, and Lukowski foound him “so note perfect I slightly worry about him”. Billington thought Banks “suitably self-possessed” and Lukowski judged her “very funny and a cracking singer, surely a future star”.

Vale praised “excellent comic turns” from John Hopkins and a “carefully understated” Barry James and Mountford found Kelly Price “blowsy and bright like her blue eyeshadow”. Billington highlighted “striking work” by both Price and Hopkins, enjoying the way “the adults turn, in a second, into blazered or gym-slipped schoolkids” to fill minor roles. Lukowski reported all “full-throttle performances”.

Vale hailed “a joyous British musical comedy… funny, poignant” and “remarkably fresh”. Billington admired “a fresh and funny show” with “bounce and charm” which “effortlessly recreates a vanished era” and “precisely captures” Adrian’s “growing pains”. Mounford hailed “a lovely, lovely show” and Lukowski found it “totally winning, palpably subversive and, delightfully, entirely free of cynicism… a ray of giddy sunshine”.

Currently booking to 09 Sep 2017, with tickets still available from the Menier box office. And speaking of loveably subversive musical comedy adaptations for the whole family, StageScan has some great prices on tickets for both Matilda and Wicked.

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