Adultery, boozing grown-ups, unpaid bills and unrequited love: yes, the growing pains of teenager Adrian Mole are certainly uncomfortable but he contextualises it by recording it all in his famous diary. Sue Townsend’s 1982 diary-style novel The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13 ¾ set in the era of Margaret Thatcher’s first administration has sold more than a million copies and has spawned numerous sequels, a television adaptation, a radio adaption, a stage production and now a musical.
Bath’s Next Stage Theatre Company brought the 2015 musical version to the Mission Theatre with a large cast in an ambitious and enjoyable production staged in the round and directed by Ann Ellison. Fin Hancorn as Adrian Mole occupied the nerdy character with a disapproving frown and appropriate body language in a matchless performance that glued the production together.
His love interest Pandora was played with the classy, entitled style you would expect in the school heart-throb by Sophia Punt whose costumes (Vanessa Bishop) revealed her superior status compared to the down trodden Adrian. She spearheaded a supporting cast of young actors who gave vitality to the show. Kes Joffe with his matinee idol looks as the school bully Barry Kent gave a strong performance as he sang, ‘Sorry I’ve got to do it,’ as he relieved Adrian of his pocket money and Dilon Endicott as Adrian’s fair-weather friend Nigel gave excellent support with his gelled hair and chirpy persona.
With an ensemble group of hyper hormonal schoolgirls of Elodie Baker, Phoebe Bartlett, Poppy Birch-Langley, Evie Brown, Molly Robertson and Miranda Webb the production didn’t lack youthful exuberance – tempered by the stern head teacher played by Andrew Ellison who disapproved of red socks on school uniform grounds. Brilliant Perrine Maillot as the soulful Doreen Slater completed the cast of young people doubling as the matron.
Of course, Sue Townsend’s story is as much about the adults in Adrian’s life beginning with the collapse of his parents’ married life in the opening scene with a New Year’s party in his front room. Their selfish, unlovable and irresponsible natures are exposed in all their everydayness – all looked down upon by the disapproving Adrian who was the only adult in the room at times. Mike Stevens as Adrian’s dad oozed self-pity while Vanessa Bishop enjoyed herself as the assertive sex mad Pauline Mole – with the feminist columnist Jill Tweedie getting the blame. Ren Leming’s Midland’s authentic accent as he played the two timing Mr Lucas reminded the near full audience that the play was rooted in the town of Ashby-de-la-Zouch in Leicestershire – an area hit by the unemployment of the early 1980s. And it was hard not to feel sorry for his long-suffering wife (Claire Rumball) as she saw his cringe worthy sexual shenanigans of Adrian’s mum unfold.
Seasoned actor Bob Constantine enjoyed himself as the grumpy but lovable Bert Baxter who Adrian seeks to help as part of his school’s Good Samaritan project. With huge energy, his politically incorrect opinions and his song ‘When I was your age’ lit up the production – especially his happy-ever-after marriage to Queenie played by the adept Kay Francksen who is adept at subtle humour.
In an ensemble production with much doubling, it was the music and choreography that perhaps worked the best with strong solo musical performances and Christine Anderston’s piano playing. Some of the best sequences were the dance and movement scenes as with a large space to fill they created a visual spectacle for the audience. Adultery, boozing grown-ups, unpaid bills and unrequited love – all the stuff of life in a very British a cul-de-sac.
The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole aged 13 ¾ runs at Bath’s Mission Theatre from Tuesday, March 21, to Saturday, March 25, 2023, nightly at 7.30pm.
Tickets and information at http://www.missiontheatre.co.uk/
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