The Theatreguide.London Review
The Secret Diary Of Adrian Mole Aged 13 3/4
Menier Chocolate Factory Summer 2017; Ambassadors Theatre Summer 2019
(The 2019 run had some cast changes.)
Totally entertaining, totally forgettable, totally disposable, this musical based on Sue Townsend's misadventures of a 1980s teenager is an ideal summer evening's entertainment.
The central joke of Townsend's best-seller (which went on through six sequels to follow its hero into Tory-tempted middle age) is Adrian's innocent self-centredness.
In his life the appearance of a new facial spot is at least as great a tragedy as his parents' break-up, a kind look from the girl of his dreams more cause for bliss than their reunion.
Adaptors Jake Brunger (book and lyrics) and Pippa Cleary (music and lyrics) have softened Townsend's gentle satire even further, cutting much of the wry social comment and reducing the hardly shocking sexual side of Adrian's romantic yearnings to a very occasional joke.
The result is a fairy tale of a mythically innocent and golden adolescence among universally warm and supporting (if occasionally confused) adults, in a world in which nothing can go particularly wrong – exactly the kind of story the audience for a light and bouncy musical wants.
The songs by Brunger and Cleary are happy pop, pleasant without being memorable. There's a small-scale production number introducing Pandora, a comic seduction tango for mother and the man next door, a hilarious 'alternate' nativity play and even a couple of touching emotional songs, for the mother trying to explain to her son why she's leaving and for the estranged couple remembering happier times.
The four main teenager roles – Adrian, Pandora, buddy Nigel and bully Barry – are shared among rotating trios of young performers (with the adult cast frequently and comically doubling as other kids).
The Adrian I saw, Benjamin Lewis, is a real star, not only cute and funny and a good singer, but able to hold the stage and carry the show on his shoulders – and all with the born performer's knack of never seeming to be working hard at it.
His Pandora this evening, Asha Banks, is the most experienced and probably most polished of all the twelve rotating youngsters. Her only flaw is that, unlike Benjamin Lewis, you can see her working, and that effort gives Pandora a little too hard an edge.
(I know Pandora is meant to be a bit of a bitch-in-training, but this fierce determination would scare the hell out of a thirteen-year-old boy, not attract him.)
Given roles that are written as stereotypes, Kelly Price and Dean Chisnall invest Adrian's parents with a warmth and individuality that create much more real and attractive characters than even Townsend imagined.
Director Luke Sheppard and choreographer Rebecca Howell keep things moving in smooth, inventive and witty ways, so that even the scene changes on Tom Rogers' protean set are fun to watch.
The Menier has an enviable history of sending shows on to West End runs, but I'm not sure this delicate little confection would work in a larger theatre – all the more reason to go see it now.
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Review - The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole - Menier Chocolate Factory 2017