Tuesday 17th March 2015
Curve – until 4th April.
Funny, heart-warming and very enjoyable.
Our rating: *****
Director: Luke Sheppard
Choreographer: Tim Jackson
Book and Lyrics by Jake Brunger and music and lyrics by Pippa Cleary.
Tonight saw the world première of Sue Townsend’s The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾ The Musical. The theatre was packed; in the bar area, BBC TV crews were doing live interviews and outside there was an OB van, its dishes sending the signals to the networks. It all added to the excitement of this auspicious occasion.
When it first appeared in 1982, Sue Townsend’s first Adrian Mole book was an instant success and sold millions of copies world-wide. I remember reading it, soon after it was published, constantly laughing out loud (much to the surprise of the other passengers on the train). The book was made into a TV series in 1985, the theme music’s title song being written by Ian Dury no less. The BBC broadcast a version of it as a Radio Four thirty minute play in 1982.
Tonight’s production was in two acts. The music was provided by a band, seated in an orchestra pit just below the front of stage. The five-piece band was under the directorship of Luke Sheppard. The set and costume designer was Tom Rogers.
What made tonight’s experience so unforgettable was the atmosphere – everyone was loving the show. Like the book, there were moments of pure hilarity, silly naivety and sheer pantomime. Risqué double entendres from the adult characters, Adrian’s adolescent naive comments and absurd situations kept the audience in fits of laughter pretty much throughout the whole performance. The musical had ably captured the spirit of the book. The show was a tour-de-force of musical comedy and a celebration of the bitter-sweet absurdities of adolescent growing pains.
Adrian and Pandora have their first proper kiss; a prolonged engagement, that the audience caught the pleasure of; afterwards Adrian walks to the front of the stage. The expression on his face was one of elation and surprise; you could tell from the reaction of the audience that this was one of the show’s unforgettable moments. Joel Fossard-Jones had to cut short the clapping and cheering by launching into his next song.
It was somewhat odd that the actors in the classroom scene comprised members of the young cast and adults both playing school children. Odd though this was it certainly amused many members of the audience. Many references occurred in the dialogue that evoked Leicester in the early 1980s; such as the reference to Pandora’s new dress, when Adrian Mole suggested she had bought it in C&As (the clothing store that used to be in the Haymarket shopping centre) whereas she retorted that it had been purchased at the much classier Debenhams. In one scene there was a bus stop bearing the world Leicester City Council, an allusion to the bus services once being provided by the local authority.
Tonight the lead role was taken by Joel Fossard-Jones, aged 13 ¼, one of four youngsters sharing the role. Adrian’s best friend Nigel was played by Samuel Small (also aged 14 ¼) with plenty of sparkle and energy. Classroom bully boy Barry Kent was played by Harrison Slater, who also did the puppetry for Sabre the Mole family’s dog. It was a conscious decision by the producers to give the teenage parts to actors of the same age – a feature of the musical which should be roundly applauded. Pandora Braithwaite was played tonight by Imogen Gurney; a role that she performed with great charm and resonance. Solidly good singing and acting came from members of the adult cast – Rosemary Ashe in the role of Adrian’s grandma, Neil Ditt as Adrian’s father George Mole and Kirsty Hoiles as his mother Pauline Mole. The curmudgeonly Bert Baxter was played by Neil Salvage.
During the interval, The Simpletones (Leicester’s top a capella and barbershop quartet) were singing in the bar area.
In act two, the school nativity play (devised by Adrian) was a pantomime but one that had the audience in stitches as they watched the antics taking place on the stage.
The show closed to a standing ovation from the audience whose reaction to the musical was justifiably jubilant and genuinely appreciative. At the final bows, tonight’s line-up was joined by others members of the young cast, the various teams of teenage actors who are taking it in turns to share the burden of the nightly performances, each one dressed in the crew jackets emblazoned with Adrian Mole emblems.
I liked this production; Curve has given us so many good musicals over the years but this is one that many will remember with particular affection.
Leicester is a city that is making a name for itself these days. The reburial of a medieval monarch is nearly upon us and when this show goes on tour, even more people will come to recognise that the Midlands city with the somewhat odd name is a place with a considerable resonance for music and the arts. Famous Leicester acts and artists have already paved the way for the city’s musical notoriety: Kasabian, Sam Bailey, Engelbert Humperdinck, Showaddywaddy… to name but a few from the world of music. The world will come to know Leicester as the birthplace of King Richard III, Sue Townsend, Joe Orton and several others. We shall see.
Background and story of the musical and read about sue Townsend on our feature article page