Saturday 30th April 2022 at Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch.
Reviewer: Maygan Forbes
Life’s pretty hard when you’re a misunderstood and spotty teenager living in a cul-de-sac in 80s Leicester. Adrian Mole is no exception. However dreams of a potential romance with the new girl Pandora and the prospect of living an intellectual life of socialist rebellion and poetry keep young Adrian on his toes. Based on the cult books by Sue Townsend and with book and lyrics by Jake Brunger, The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13¾ The Musical is a fun night out for all age groups to enjoy!
At the start of the play, I was wondering why the titular character (as well as the other “kids” in the play) was not played by an actual teenager. For the subject matter of a child on the cusp of adolescence, it would be more believable and authentic to the source material. I was not a part of the Adrian Mole universe growing up, I did not read the books or watch the television series. So I was going into this play with a fresh outlook, my only expectation was that Adrian Mole was going to be played by a 13 year old. Fortunately this Mole (played by James Hameed) was great in this role and really embraced the nerdy teenager aesthetic! But the star of the show without a doubt was Pandora Braithwaite (played by Sally Cheng), her character was brilliant. A passionate activist, fresh out of a transfer from a private school and forced into “comprehensive school hell”, she really takes charge of the stage against the “bigoted dinosaurs” that threaten to keep them in the dark ages.
This is definitely a cute musical from director Douglas Rintoul, however there a lot of sociopolitical references that hint to the deeper layers in the show. This is a play about a working class boy trying to navigate his way through the turbulent years of adolescence and what the show does well is imply the social class structures but through a juvenile gaze.
Adrian’s understanding of this is severely limited due to his age however what he does understand, he picks up on through family interactions and conversations with the people around him. Adrian’s dad works as a labourer whilst his mother looks after the home. In the first act it becomes clear to the audience that she is fed up with this life and fantasises about female liberation, going out to work, and having a heated love affair with her neighbour who gives her the attention her husband so blatantly doesn’t even bother with. When Adrian’s mother informs him that her marriage is like a prison, Adrian is confused and questions how marriage can be like a prison when “women are allowed to leave the house every day”. It’s a bitterly funny moment that really highlights Adrian’s age and perception of the world around him.
The musical has a lot of interesting characters that are caricatures of real people I’m sure we have all had the misfortune of meeting at least once in our life. The overzealous, cruel headteacher, the bully with awful body odour, the misogynistic old man with outdated jokes, the teacher who still clings on to their glory days from decades ago! Alfie Heywood’s set design is very fun and playful, there were a few awkward and clunky blocking sequences on stage, however this is easily forgiven as the songs that came after were enjoyable. With music and lyrics by Pippa Clearly, there’s a little something for everyone in The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13¾ The Musical.
The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13¾ The Musical plays the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch until May 21st 2022 and you can find tickets here.