First birthed in 2012 by writers Jake Brunger and Pippa Cleary and then premiering at the Leicester Curve in 2015, The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13 ¾ is a classic children’s novel that still captures the hearts of its readers today. The all-singing, all-dancing musical extravaganza maintains the warmth of the book whilst bringing heaps of theatricality.
Fitting perfectly in the Ambassadors Theatre, it is a bright and colourful production that feels beautifully intimate. You are transported right into the heart of Adrian’s family home as he takes the audience through a year of his life at age 13 (and three quarters). Although the book might have been written 30 years ago, it is a timeless story. With embarrassing parents, school bullies, first loves and pesky spots, Adrian’s coming-of-age story is one we can all relate to.
Director Luke Sheppard has captured an indescribable spirit in this production that just feels right. It’s easy to compare every musical starring kids to the RSC’s smash-hit Matilda, but this show is in a league of its own. The characters feel genuine and Sheppard manages to make the story feel so real yet with the caricature of a storybook world through expressive and animated characters.
There is a reason Brunger (book and lyrics) and Cleary (music and lyrics) instantly won over author Sue Townsend when wanting to adapt this book into a musical, as they create vibrant and dynamic characters in the most brilliantly British way. It’s funny, but laugh-out-loud kind of funny with a witty score and outrageous one-liners. The songs stick in your head and this is highlighted through the masterly staging. Designer Tom Rogers creates a clever set that moves in a slick and precise way. With sofas and kitchen cabinets coming out of cupboards, the small stage accomodates it all well as the production fits into its new London home like a glove.
Rufus Kampa is exceptional as Adrian Mole as he encapsulates the awkwardness of the role perfectly. It’s so refreshing to see talented kids on stage that don’t ooze that stage school persona, but actually resemble a genuine young teenager. Kampa has the audience in the palm of his hand as you connect to his character immediately and find yourself rooting for him throughout the show. Whether it’s his friendship with the charismatic Jeremiah Davan Waysome as Nigel or budding romance with the new girl at school Pandora.
Rebecca Nardin brings remarkable talent and confidence to the role of Pandora, a posh girl that recently transferred from the posh girl’s school down the road. Nardin has stunning vocals and superb characterisation. The whole cast are impressive, Amy Ellen Richardson has the humour and tenderness as Adrian’s mum Pauline, Lara Denning has the eccentric expression as crazy teacher Miss Elf and John Hopkins is hysterical as both Mr Lucas and Mr Scruton.
The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13 ¾ is infectious theatrical escapism that shines a light on the beauty of British musicals through distinct humour, an outstanding cast and vivacious score.
On at the Ambassadors Theatre in London’s West End, tickets and information can be found on their website.