It’s a sobering thought to consider that having entered his 14th year in 1982, that perpetual adolescent, Adrian Mole would now be turning fifty. But we are taken back to where it all began in in Adrian Mole The Musical (full title: Sue Townsend’s The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾ The Musical) from Jake Brunger and Pippa Cleary, which has already had runs in Leicester and at The Menier Chocolate Factory, and now finds itself in the West End at the Ambassador’s theatre in perfect time for the summer holidays.
The script, which Sue Townsend was involved in developing before she died, takes all the key moments from that pivotal year when Adrian went from being 13 ¾ to 14 ¾. The diary entries, which rarely resemble the journal entries of the books, are accompanied by a mostly peppy and upbeat score, with an occasional ballad making it in to the mix.
The energy is needed as we race through the most important moments of that year, Adrian’s parents spilt up after his mother has an affair with the next door neighbour, Prince Charles and Lady Diana get married, and of course Adrian falls head over heels in love with the daughter of a rich socialist, Pandora. All while Adrian remains, in his own eyes at least, intellectually aloof.
The musical version does lack some of Townsend’s scathing wit, and we also lose much of the political commentary that was so vital to the book’s place in history; a line from Bert, “that Thatcher bloke” is the only hint that this is Thatcher’s Britain, but in fairness this isn’t trying to replicate the books, it’s reimagining them in a delightfully spirited way.
Adrian Mole The Musical, honours Townsend’s writing in more nuanced ways. As someone who grew up reading the Cappuccino years, and is now rapidly approaching his own prostate years, I know that one of the greatest devices used by Townsend was to have Adrian believe something with total conviction, that we the reader, knew would turn out to be wrong, and that concept is used to great effect throughout the musical.
Luke Sheppard has directed a production that is full of pizzazz, but yet still has a charming roughness around the edges to it. That over the top staging matches much of the score perfectly, particularly ‘Misunderstood’, a high energy dance number at the school disco, or ‘The Nativity’, Adrian’s first attempt at a full length play which sees Mary at the family planning clinic, before giving birth in the stable of a greedy capitalist.
There are gentler songs too, ‘Perfect Mother’ from Amy Ellen Richardson’s Pauline turns out to be an enormously moving number, and the scenes between Adrian and Bert (Ian Talbot) are also very special too.
How wonderful to have another West End musical that is led by a young cast. A rotating cast of actors take on the principal roles, and on the night I saw it, Rebecca Nardin was confidently assured as Pandora and Jeremiah Davan Waysome was wonderfully engaging as Nigel.
As for Rufus Kampa in the title role, he was the Adrian Mole that I had conjured up in my imagination all those years ago when I first picked up the book. Full of teenage awkwardness he used the character’s own ordinariness to create humour and charm in every scene, it was like meeting a character I’ve known my whole life.
As we might write to the Man at The BBC; Adrian Mole The Musical should absolutely be on the West End, because not only does it honour Sue Townsend’s beloved stories and characters, it manages to remind us of the joy that comes with the innocence of being aged 13 ¾, and the ambitions that seem so achievable in childhood, even if it does come with the odd pimple.