When I went: 8 September 2017
Location: Menier Chocolate Factory, London
Performers: Benjamin Lewis (Adrian), Asha Banks (Pandora), Amir Wilson (Nigel), Connor Davies (Barry Kent), Mathew Craig (George Mole), Gay Soper (Grandma), John Hopkins (Mr Lucas), Lara Denning (Doreen Slater / Mrs Lucas), Kelly Price (Pauline Mole), Barry James (Bert Baxter)
Creative team: Pippa Cleary (music and lyrics), Jake Brunger (lyrics and book), Luke Sheppard (director), Tom Rogers (set design), Rachel Howell (choreography), Anthony Clare and David Ian Productions
Approximate price: £50
Special points: ’80s references, burgeoning feminism
Best bit: Look At That Girl
If I could change one thing: Shorter nativity scene
Sue Townsend’s Adrian Mole books are well-loved in the UK, and encapsulate a lot of ’80s pop culture references and trends surrounding the indelible character of Adrian Mole, a precocious yet often hopelessly naive teenager navigating everyday crap – his parents’ rocky marriage, his career and romantic aspirations and school bullies. This adaptation of the first book is a little like Matilda in its high energy and like The Book of Mormon in its almost relentless satirical dialogue and lyrics, albeit perhaps of a more innocent flavour.
Benjamin Lewis was pitch-perfect as Adrian, with a good mix of endearing naïveté and arrogant intelligence, and was rarely offstage. Asha Banks’ Pandora was sparky, funny and a great example of a young woman in the ’80s trying to do everything and above all forge a career path in a world where the men and boys around her would be happy for her to just look pretty so they could continue to ogle (and fight over) her.
One amusing touch was the use of adult actors doubling as schoolchildren in certain scenes – this kept the cast small and probably added to the intimate feel of the whole performance. Kelly Price sung excellently as Pauline Mole and her romantic scenes with John Hopkins’ Mr Lucas (and her more downbeat arguments with her on-stage husband Mathew Craig as George Mole) were every bit as endearing as the children’s moments.
I found myself tiring slightly of the long-winded parody of the nativity scene but this was only a minor complaint – on the whole, the musical numbers were strong and carried the story forward effectively. There were also a few slightly unbelievable moments in the story (why would Adrian think his parents were simply ‘sleeping’ in bed for ages when in previous scenes he showed himself to be hyper-aware of sex?), but only a few.
Tom Rogers’ set design was pretty neat too – on the Menier’s small stage, he managed to smoothly transition between classroom, bedroom, hospital and disco without the changes ever feeling clumsy or obvious.
Given the pace at which this show sold out in its short run at the Menier, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it transferred to the West End in the near future to mine its ready-made audiences of ’80s kids and their own kids.