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Stuart King

Review: THE SECRET DIARY OF ADRIAN MOLE AGED 13¾ at the Ambassadors Theatre

Adrian Mole Starting life in 2015 at The Curve in Leicester and subsequently spawning a London run at the Menier Chocolate Factory two years later, Sue Townsend’s gawky young adolescent takes-up residence at the Ambassadors this summer.

With songs by Jake Brunger and Pippa Cleary this musical version of the massively successful book, charts the misfirings of an intellectual, spotty-faced lad, growing-up in the early 80s — where the disintegration of his parent’s stale marriage provides the back-drop and a nod towards gritty kitchen sink drama (but realistically, only ever a cursory nod).

The whole is utterly exhausting to watch, simply because - in their earnest desire to entertain - the creative team have produced a show in which EVERY one, imbues EVERY number, with EVERY thing they’ve got. This includes generally over-egging, EVERY juvenile gag to within an inch of its life, or (at the opposite end of the performance spectrum) rattling through the one-liners so quickly, that punchlines get completely lost in the general kerfuffle of adults playing kids and kids tentatively learning to become adults. Frustratingly, the incessant busyness both lifts and damns proceedings.

The songs are generally disappointing and an unmemorable mix of second rate Disney-mashed-with-everyone. Hopelessly rhymed lyrics are quite consistently appalling, (Pandora, I adore ya, On the floor I implore ya) and dreadfully corny (I’ll take you to Pareee, We’ll eat lots of Brie, Just like the bourgeoisie), and yet, are so well-meant that they are largely forgivable due to the on-stage determination to deliver earnestness, energy and enthusiasm at EVERY moment of the evening. Imagine Matilda, but conjured on a budget and put on in the provinces by the leading lights drawn from the very best amateur dramatic societies for 100 miles around, and you’ll get the picture.

The Nativity towards the end of the second half, unashamedly layers hugely inappropriate, un-PC jokes - which some ardent Christians may find offensive, but which the overwhelming majority of the audience, found hilariously irreverent. Immaculate conception gags rarely lose their lustre (for this reviewer at least) and especially when placenta gets flicked into Mary’s eye and the gaudy red umbilical cord (still linking her to the plastic baby Jesus) gets strung-out across the stage and inadvertently twanged.

Much of the immaturity, childish antics and humour, smacked of comedians and writers for children, like David Walliams, yet seemed to be striving (with very mixed results) for something far more sophisticated.

For this lovely, tiny theatre, Tom Rogers has devised a compact and cleverly utilitarian set which supports Rebecca Howell’s frenzied choreography and movement. Quite how Luke Sheppard managed to direct the chaotic parts into a moderately slick musical of 2 hours and 20 mins (including interval) is anyone’s guess, but you’ll certainly admire his undoubted pluck and tenacity on leaving.

The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole tickets