Nobody caught the agonies of adolescence – and they are agonies – quite as well as Adrian Mole. Susan Townsend’s teenage diarist, puberty’s very own Samuel Pepys, has been so beloved by British readers since he arrived in book form back in 1982 that he’s nigh on achieved national treasure status. Little wonder, then, that he’s got his very own West End musical. The surprise is rather that it took quite so long.
Adapted by the up-and-coming musical theatre duo Jake Brunger (book and lyrics) and Pippa Cleary (music and lyrics), Adrian Mole: the Musical stays fairly faithful to Townsend’s original as it rattles through all manner of Adrian’s teenage travails. There are pimples aplenty and many a wistful sigh for Pandora Braithwaite, the object of his adolescent affections, and pummelings from school bully Barry Kent. And the Leicester lad is still absolutely convinced that he’s destined for the life of a literati.
But beneath all of those day-to-day woes, this is a touching, comic child’s eye view of divorce – half comprehending, half in the dark. As Adrian’s mother Pauline nips next door to spend more and more time with Mr Lucas, her son can’t quite make sense of their neighbourly relationship.
Brunger and Cleary stick strictly to the original 1980s setting: Prince Charles and Lady Di are due to be wed, Margaret Thatcher’s at the peak of her parliamentary power and female empowerment is in the air. There are clever little politic allusions in a plot built around standing up to bullies and sticking together in solidarity.
Mostly, though, Adrian Mole the Musical is a charming affair with a bevvy of catchy songs that move the action on. Directed with deceptive simplicity by Luke Sheppard, this family musical will entertain childs, grown-ups and all those in-between.