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Posts Tagged ‘Jake Brunger’

The programme for this caught my imagination this year, so I booked for six of the eight showcases of new musicals at the Turbine Theatre. The first was cancelled, so I ended up seeing five. Each was around an hour long, with no set but some costumes and props.

I started with Jet Set Go!, not exactly new, a reworking of an eleven year old Edinburgh fringe show by Pippa Cleary & Jake Brunger, who went on to give us a superb adaptation of The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole which I saw in Leicester, the Menier & the West End. It’s a very funny piece set on a transatlantic flight (and during their stopover in NYC) exploring the lives of the crew. Great fun, with a brilliant cast, in which Lizzy Connolly and Samantha Thomas shone with show-stopping comedy numbers.

The Assassination of Katie Hopkins wasn’t new either, having had a full production at Theatre Clwyd in 2018. I’m not sure this unstaged one hour version did it full justice, but the originality of the score and the suitability of the subject matter to the form left me wanting to see a full production. MD Mark Dickman did a fine job playing Mark Winkworth’s score on solo piano and the cast of six delivered Chris Bush’s lyrics with relish.

The festival hit a high note with veteran musical theatre partnership Stiles & Drew’s new musical adaptation of the film Soapdish, whose writer, Robert Harding, also responsible for the show’s book, made the transatlantic journey to be part of it. The premiere league cast included Louise Dearman and Laura Pitt-Pulford, who squeezed every ounce of comedy from this hilarious piece about a soap star and her nemesis. It was great to see Alice Croft and Nic Myers, Arts Ed students who wowed me there in Freaky Friday last month, in this exceptional cast. I can’t wait to see a full production.

Another established writer, Jason Carr, better known as an orchestrator, arranger and accompanist, was responsible, with Poppy Burton-Morgan, for the fourth offering, Coldfront. This is a very different, original two-hander set on a park bench where an unlikely relationship unfolds. The songs were nice, but there was a little too much sung dialogue and the performances weren’t well matched, though it was good to see Anna Francolini again.

The final showcase wasn’t new either, the third iteration over 12 years of Craig Christie’s Eurobeat, a satire / homage to that contest. They weren’t able to camp it up as much as it needed, with no set and few costumes, though Daniel Jacob was excellent as the glittery drag host Marlene Cabana. The four entries – Spain, Ukraine, Norway and Vatican City (!) – were very good, but there were only four, plus one for the compere.

For some reason, I was expecting brand new shows as work-in-progress from people new to musical theatre, so with only two out of four shows not produced before and those from established writers, one which had been workshopped twice before, it didn’t really fulfil my expectations, though I didn’t dislike any of them, the performances were excellent and I had a lot of fun.

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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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