‘Good fun, irresistible really’: The Secret Diary Of Adrian Mole Aged 13¾ The Musical – West End ★★★★

In London theatre, Musicals, Opinion, Reviews, Sticky, Ticket recommendations by Libby PurvesLeave a Comment

Ambassadors Theatre, London – until 12 October 2019

It is almost eerie to plunge back into the 1980s for the early teens of our hero, especially if you have been listening to the latest R4 reading of his adult life, long post-Thatcher, deep in Brexit with Pandora in Parliament and his love life still a slo-mo disaster. But this little musical, developed in Leicester (where else!) is the result of Jake Brunger and Pippa Cleary badgering the late Sue Townsend to be allowed to do it, and with poppy tunes and a high-spirited cast under Luke Sheppard, it works surprisingly well.

Its charm is partly retro – boy-nature is perennial, and all of us, of both sexes, who were once teenage poets and dreamers of intellectual grandeur can relate to poor Adrian’s travails. Even if our parents were less ghastly than his.    But young Mole predates our age of social media, smartphones and the problems of wiredly connected anxious FOMO-victims. Today one could wistfully hope that teenage intellectual ambition would find a tribe. And, with luck, his mother Pauline’s feminism would have lost its recklessly selfish 1980s élan and taken his emotional welfare too seriously to dump him with a boozy Dad and run off with Mr Lucas.

Shouldn’t be nursing these reflections during what is a stompingly funny, pleasantly daft and relentlessly energetic musical, but the sadness of Adrian Mole always did rather get to me. And the poignant performance of the boy himself (on press night Michael Hawkins) serves that very honestly. His timing, and sense of bathos, is magnificent:  underlining the perennial problem of any child looking up at the terrible absurdities and unpredictable behaviours of the adult world (not just his parents – Andrew Langtree and a willowy Amy Ellen Richardson – but Ian Talbot’s old Baxter with his views on women (“whip ’em, slap ’em, ride ’em”) and the fierce grandmother (Rosemary Ashe).

The adults double as schoolchildren, which is simple but frankly hilarious; though in the ensemble of real children the palm must go to the diminutive Charlie Stripp as Barry the Bully, whose macho posing, gritted jaw and squared shoulders elicited barks of delight. He works the delightfully patched, ragged family dog puppet beautifully as well.

So it’s good fun, irresistible really, and should cheer up the school holidays no end while reminding parents of their own awful 80s childhood. The Nativity play is well over the top and down the other side. But at its core is the sadness that Adrian will never quite, even in his own inflated opinion, fulfil his chant of “I’ll be great, I’ll be strong, I’ll be friends with Elton John!”

 

Box Office: 0843 904 0061  to 12 October

rating four

Libby Purves on RssLibby Purves on Twitter
Libby Purves
Libby Purves was theatre critic for The Times from 2010 to 2013. Determined to continue her theatre commentary after losing that job, she set up her own site www.theatrecat.com in October 2013. She personally reviews all major London openings, usually with on-the-night publication, and also gives voice to a new generation of critics with occasional guest 'theatrekittens'. In addition to her theatre writing and myriad other credits, Libby has been a presenter on BBC Radio 4’s Midweek for over 30 years. She is also the author of a dozen novels, and numerous non-fiction titles. In 1999, Libby was appointed an OBE for services to journalism.
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Libby Purves on RssLibby Purves on Twitter
Libby Purves
Libby Purves was theatre critic for The Times from 2010 to 2013. Determined to continue her theatre commentary after losing that job, she set up her own site www.theatrecat.com in October 2013. She personally reviews all major London openings, usually with on-the-night publication, and also gives voice to a new generation of critics with occasional guest 'theatrekittens'. In addition to her theatre writing and myriad other credits, Libby has been a presenter on BBC Radio 4’s Midweek for over 30 years. She is also the author of a dozen novels, and numerous non-fiction titles. In 1999, Libby was appointed an OBE for services to journalism.

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