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I caught the world premiere of Jake Brunger & Pippa Cleary’s musical adaptation of the late Sue Townsend’s book in it’s home town of Leicester just over two years ago (https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2015/03/23/the-secret-diary-of-adrian-mole-aged-13-34-the-musical) so it’s good to report that I liked this London premiere even more. In a smaller space, trimmed by 20 minutes, with what seemed like a more unrestrained production and more energetic, infectious performances, it was a lot more fun.

Tom Rogers’ set is an extraordinary use of space, changing quickly from kitchen to bedroom to school and other locations, props turning up from all over the place. Luke Sheppard’s staging seems much more sprightly and the pace never lets up. A year in Adrian’s young life speeds by, through parental separations and reunions, falling in love with Pandora, being bullied by Barry, writing the school nativity play and the Royal Wedding. This is 1981, of course.

Benjamin Lewis is sensational as Adrian; a perfect characterisation with deadpan delivery and superb comic timing. Dean Chisnall has hot-footed it over from Working at Southwark Playhouse and makes a terrific dad, with Kelly Price excellent as mum. John Hopkins turns in a great cameo as neighbour Mr Lucas (and makes a hilarious schoolgirl with gymslip, pigtails and moustache!) and there’s a delightful pair of seniors in Gay Soper’s grandma and Barry James’ Bert Baxter. The whole ensemble seem to be having the time of their lives and it’s infectious.

I will be astonished if this doesn’t transfer, but I hope it isn’t scaled back up too much as it’s simply perfect as it is.

Catch it at the Menier if you can.

 

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A gold star to the Curve Theatre Leicester for putting a new British musical by a relatively unknown team on their main stage. The fact that both Sue Townsend, the writer of the original book, and her main character hail from their city means it truly belongs there, and there is much to enjoy in this world première.

Adrian tells us the story of one year of his life (most of the first of what became eight books!) from one New Years Eve to the next, during which his mum runs away with Mr Lucas, his dad gets together with Doreen Slater, he gets bullied by Barry Kent, he befriends left-wing pensioner Bert Baxter and he falls in love with Pandora Braithwaite. Oh, the trials of puberty and growing up, particularly when you’re an intellectual lost at sea in Leicester.

Adrian’s diary is now an iconic book and for those of us who read this first (and later) instalments in real time, this is all very nostalgic. It works well as a musical, with a book by Jake Brunger and a simple tuneful score by Pippa Cleary and lyrics by both which contribute to telling the story. The second half has more pace than the first, reaching its peak in an unforgettable scene where Adrian gives us his version of a Nativity play.

I very much liked Tom Rogers design of houses that open out to provide interiors and giant pens and pencils which nod to the source. The thirteen characters are played by four extraordinarily talented children (I don’t know which of the 3 / 4 of each we had on Saturday evening) and six adult actors including the excellent Neil Ditt and Kirsty Hoiles as Adrian’s dad and mum, Amy Booth-Steel tripling up brilliantly as teacher, Mrs Lucas and Doreen Slater and Rosemary Ashe no less as Grandma Mole. Some haven’t taken to the adults playing child ‘extras’ but I thought it was rather fun. Director Luke Sheppard marshals his resources well and MD Mark Collins 5-piece band played with zest.

It’s the first showing of the work, so we shouldn’t perhaps expect a fully finished piece, but it’s a welcome and successful musical adaptation which brings Adrian to a new generation and will no doubt improve with age.

 

 

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