Culture Bound – August

As nearly everything seems to shift up to Edinburgh for a theatrical holiday, there’s been time to catch up on some recent big hitters.

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Theatre

Noises Off by Michael Frayn (Lyric, Hammersmith) An excellent cast and spot on direction make this classic one of the funniest plays ever. The first act was very good but not great, seeming to lack a bit of momentum but after that it was all systems go. The behind the scenes mayhem was choreographed to perfection and I could only wonder at the stamina of the performers and their sheer technical brilliance. The third act, which can be a minor let down, was actually even funnier than usual – perhaps because there was no second interval, so the momentum was maintained. A great play one (well me anyway) never tires of. ****

BEST OF THE BUNCH

The Lehman Trilogy by Stefano Massini – adapted by Ben Power (NT at the Piccadilly) Wow several times over! An absolutely consummate powerhouse of writing, acting, directing and design. Such careful and even pacing, such clarity of diction, such total excitement. Simon Russell Beale was quite extraordinary,  Dominik Tiefenthaler (taking over from Ben Miles) was rock solid and Adam Godley was a complete revelation – particularly when he played all eight prospective fiancées in rapid succession. Even the uncomfortable seats could not detract from 3.5 hours of unalloyed pleasure in what must be one of the most significant theatrical achievements this decade. Theatre at its very best….and then some. *****

Once On This Island  by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty (Southwark Playhouse)  This spin on Romeo and Juliet mashed up with The Little Mermaid was enhanced by memorable musical numbers and exuberant staging which demonstrated that sometimes simple is best; the transformation scene at the end was particularly effective. The stage was sometimes over full and I found the direction a bit frantic. Sound balance at the start was awry and intermittently throughout. Where this production really scored was in the high-level energy and sheer enthusiasm of the whole ensemble; although difficult to single anyone out, Chrissie Bhima as the central character has obvious star potential. ***

The Weatherman by Eugene O’Hare (Park Theatre) A highly flawed and depressing drama which left me pining for lighter fare. Full review here **

(Just as an aside I must just also mention a rehearsed reading of Alan Ayckbourn’s Way Upstream at Tower Theatre. More of a semi staged performance this notoriously difficult to stage piece was brought to vivid life by an enterprising crew of actors and some inspired direction. A real treat.)

Film

The Lion King directed by Jon Favreau. This “live action” remake of the classic cartoon included some new elements taken from the stage musical which improved on the original. That aside it was a faithful recreation – perhaps too faithful, meaning there were few surprises or new elements. Whereas I don’t find it difficult to accept cartoon animals speaking I found it grating that their more realistic counterparts did so. It was difficult to suspend belief, particularly when the songs kicked in. That said the photography and sense of realism was superb. I’m not sure Disney’s mania for reinterpreting its back catalogue is fully justified ***

A deep depression moving in …

Some unremitting gloom at the theatre reveals aspects of the seamier side of life.

Although there has been a lot of fun, lightness and laughter on display onstage during 2019 I have, just occasionally, found myself watching aspects of the seamier side of life. Prostitution, the porn industry, poisonous relationships, violence and child abuse have all featured and served to enhance a general feeling of negativity which seems to pervade society currently. Sometimes a bit of froth and fun are called for but that was never going to be the case with my latest outing. Here’s my review:

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“Marvellous”. “Deeply moving”. “A meaningful play about a really important subject”. As I left the Park Theatre last night having watched Eugene O’Hare’s play The Weatherman, these were the sort of (overheard) comments that were most prevalent among my fellow theatre goers. Unfortunately, I could not altogether agree which just goes to show just how subjective this whole business of reviewing is.
The worthy looking leaflet left for us on the seats as we entered, alerted us to the content of the play being about Human Trafficking and Modern Day Slavery; serious topics by anyone’s standards. So, it was somewhat unexpected when the first twenty minutes or so seemed to be a comedy about a pair of flat sharing low-lifes who bickered and complained as though they were an old married couple and who were only staying together out of habit. However, this soon morphed into something more sinister as it became apparent that the couple, O’Rourke (perpetually angry) and Beezer (perpetually drunk) were being employed to “look after” a 12 year old Romanian girl bought to Britain by their boss, Dollar in order, as he hypocritically excuses himself, to have a better life than the one she would have back home.

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Throw into the mix a relatively (at first) chirpy minder called Turkey and there you have the complete cast other than the totally silent and largely unresponsive girl, Mara who when she appears is every inch the tragic victim of this all male milieu.

Although we do not (thankfully) see her at work we hear enough about what goes on to form a clear picture of abuse, degradation and human violation. Rather we see her cooped up in the barricaded flat listening to the tales of the various men who indirectly – and possibly directly – abuse her. A sympathetic understanding grows up between Mara and O’Rourke, but this has extremely tragic consequences and the play ends on an extended diminuendo.
Now, let me say, that the cast were uniformly excellent and were completely credible in their roles. David Schaal as the odious Dollar was frighteningly realistic in his manipulation and control of the others while Mark Hadfield as Beezer was disarmingly pathetic and had most of the comic lines. Mara was brought to life by the movement and haunted looks of Niamh James though I could have wished that the playwright had found a way to give her a voice. While it forcibly made the point that she was a silent victim I do think the complete absence of a vocalised female perspective served to work against the message rather than enhance it.

1Instead we heard from the men – repeatedly, in some cases unrelentingly and to the point of tedium. There were an awful lot of monologues in this play; indeed, most of the second half seemed to consist entirely of them. However, they were not monologues delivered directly to the audience which might have retained interest. They were mediated through the silent young girl and, to my mind, lost much of their force by doing so. Try as I might I just could not get into the play’s headspace. I even asked to move seats during the interval to try and help me refocus, but I still found myself unable to fully engage. Perhaps that’s a reflection on me rather than the piece but I began to find the whole thing rather soporific. Some of the direction however did not help. For instance, much of O’Rourkes long monologue, as delivered by Alec Newman, was rendered less effective to those of us sitting stage left as it was played downstage right with a kitchen table and chairs obscuring the view. As this was supposed to be the point where the shared empathy between gaoler and his captive emerged this was definitely unfortunate.

Instead we heard from the men – repeatedly, in some cases unrelentingly and to the point of tedium. There were an awful lot of monologues in this play; indeed, most of the second half seemed to consist entirely of them. However, they were not monologues delivered directly to the audience which might have retained interest. They were mediated through the silent young girl and, to my mind, lost much of their force by doing so. Try as I might I just could not get into the play’s headspace. I even asked to move seats during the interval to try and help me refocus, but I still found myself unable to fully engage. Perhaps that’s a reflection on me rather than the piece but I began to find the whole thing rather soporific. Some of the direction however did not help. For instance, much of O’Rourkes long monologue, as delivered by Alec Newman, was rendered less effective to those of us sitting stage left as it was played downstage right with a kitchen table and chairs obscuring the view. As this was supposed to be the point where the shared empathy between gaoler and his captive emerged this was definitely unfortunate.The set design by James Perkins was suitably grotty and the imaginative soundscape of Giles Thomas was instrumental in creating a sense of time and place. Costuming was pretty much on the money and the lighting design of Tina McHugh conjured up the right sense of menace and unease.
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This piece will inevitably draw comparisons with the work of Harold Pinter, Martin McDonagh and even, at one particularly grisly moment, Quentin Tarantino. That it is not quite of the same standard does not mean this writer has no promise. Indeed, the management at Park Theatre obviously think that here is a talent to be nurtured. The second of O’Hares two debut plays “Sydney and the Old Girl” premieres there later in the season starring Miriam Margolyes. Perhaps I’ll appreciate that one more.*
Now just in case anyone thinks I’m decrying putting serious subjects on stage let me make it clear that I’m not. Two of my monthly “Picks of the Bunch” have been Mark Ravenhill’s The Cane and Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days and they couldn’t be bleaker if they tried. My most recent five star accolade went to The Lehman Trilogy a play with some real depth and heft to it. And what all these had in common was that they were, to coin a phrase, “seriously entertaining”. Besides with the political mess we are in isn’t it only natural to want to engage with something which lightens the gloom a bit. As Lloyd Dallas, the erstwhile director in Michael Frayn’s Noises Off so succinctly puts it: I haven’t come to the theatre to hear about other people’s problems. I’ve come to be taken out of myself….and, preferably, not put back again.

*This review first appeared on the website of Sardines Magazine
Production photos by Piers Foley

Wholely Moley! (2)

An interview with John Hopkins, one of the adult performers in Adrian Mole – The Musical

John Hopkins is currently appearing as next door neighbour Mr “Creep” Lucas and Headmaster “Popeye” Scruton in the musical version of The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole aged 13 ¾ at the Ambassador’s theatre – my “Best of the Bunch” for July. So, what’s it like appearing in a stage version of one of the most successful books ever to be published?

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Hi John. Do you remember the first time you read one of the Adrian Mole books? What impression did it make on you?

I was probably about ten – far too young to understand all the sex stuff. My parents had a copy because when it was published it was seen as a comic novel for adults, as much as it was a children’s book. And I was a voracious reader and would pick up anything in the house with print on it and swallow it whole. My parents were a bit surprised I’d read it, I think. Mum said, “Did you understand it?”, and I said, “Not all of it”, and she said, “That’s probably for the best”.

Why do you think Sue Townsend’s books have been so wildly successful on the page, on TV and now as a musical?

Because everyone has been an adolescent and struggled through that wilderness. And because she is an incredibly funny writer. I mean the joke count in that first book is really high. And the diary device, where the person writing the diary understands less about what’s going on than the reader, is a really sophisticated and a pleasing trick to pull off. There’s a lot of pathos in him not knowing what the audience do.

As a youngster were you more like Adrian or Nigel? Or were you a Barry?

Oh God, Adrian. Entirely Adrian. NHS specs and everything. Once the TV show came out – and put the word into common parlance – “intellectual! ” would be shouted at me by the big sporty boys on my road. It was basically like living in Pol Pot’s Cambodia.

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This is the second run of the musical of Adrian Mole you have been in. What differences have you noticed this time round?

Very few. I think the creative team did such an amazing job previously and you don’t really want to mess with that winning formula. There are a few more bells and whistles commensurate with our West End address. We’ve got a bigger band! Last time it was my first ever musical and I was in a state of white-hot terror throughout, which is why I put in so many cheap jokes, as a security blanket. Now I’m slightly less terrified, but the jokes have stayed. The kids are a bit younger this time. Before their voices kept breaking and we had to replace them overnight, like robots in Westworld. Brutal.

Who is more fun to play, Mr Lucas or Mr Scruton? Did you base them on anybody?

I think Lucas, because he’s got the big seduction number with Pauline. And it’s fun to puncture that lothario type by making him incredibly clumsy. He’s basically an idiot with a very high opinion of himself. That’s really fun to do. And hopefully makes him less toxic for audiences. They’re both based on composites of terrifying masculine figures from my childhood. The moustache is a big part of that. All my scary PE teachers had moustaches.

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Adrian dreams of success in the arts? What ambitions do you have?

I’d like to direct more. As most directors who’ve worked with me will confirm. And I’d like to do something serious again. Comedy is like crack though. Very moreish.

What advice would you give the youngsters in the show about going into acting full time?

They’re 13 and they’re starring in a West End musical! They don’t need my advice! I can’t imagine having that level of confidence when I was their age. But I would say, make I sure you really really want to do it. Like, you couldn’t contemplate life without it. Because it is an occasionally brutal business, and the world is not crying out for more actors. And show up on time, with your lines learned! I’m about halfway there on that one.

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The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole aged 13 ¾ runs until 28th September 2019. Tickets from £ 24: here

This interview first appeared on the LTR website
You can read my full review of the show here

Culture Bound – July

A lot of good stuff this month and nothing that really totally disappointed. It was tricky to choose the “Best Of The Bunch”. One main theme was the 50th anniversary of the first Moon landing which inspired some into classic sci-fi reading

July 19

Theatre

New Voices The National Theatre’s competition for young writers throws up some distinctive new voices Full review here ****

BEST OF THE BUNCH – JUST!

The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole – The Musical by Jake Brunger and Pippa Cleary – and, of course, Sue Townsend (Ambassadors Theatre) A bouncing exuberant recreation of the book and the early 1980s. Full review here ****

Fiver by Alex James Ellison and Tom Lees (Southwark Playhouse) I really hoped I’d like this more than I did. An interesting concept but too many flaws left me feeling unsatisfied. Full review here ***

Fix Up by Kwame Kwei-Armah (Tower Theatre, Stoke Newington) An interesting and thought provoking dissection of a community leaving its roots behind in favour of something far more ephemeral. This was a production that was solid and challenging and was especially interesting being performed within a stone’s throw of the play’s setting. The central character (Brother Kiyi) as played by Richard Bobb-Semple was a complex enigma whose past was slowly revealed and he was given good support by a talented cast. ****

Canterbury Tales after Geoffrey Chaucer (Tower Theatre, Stoke Newington) This had a slight end of term feel to it (appropriate as it was the final production in the new theatre’s inaugural year). It went to show that the themes Chaucer explored were universal and still relevant – none more so than the harrowing Lawyer’s tale which told of refugees and religious fundamentalism. Most of the pieces were more light-hearted and retained Chaucer’s bawdy approach. The cast morphed into an amazing series of characters with minimal props and good use made of foley effects. ***

 

Books

Quicksand by Steve Stoltz The second of his books I’ve tried. Interesting but slightly soporific. Full review here ***

The Man Who Was Thursday by G K Chesterton  Unexpectedly bonkers but generally good fun. Full review here ****

From The Earth To The Moon by Jules Verne  On the 50th anniversary of the moon landings what better to read? Full review here ***

Around The Moon by Jules Verne. Sequel to the above. Full review here ***

The First Men In The Moon by H.G. Wells. Classic sci-fi, British this time. Full review here ****

The Man Who Knew Too Much by G.K. Chesterton. Slightly disappointing set of short detective stories. Full review here **

Overtaken by Alexi Sayle. A slice of modern life examined by the acerbic comedian. Full review here ****

 

Exhibition

Stanley Kubrick  (The Design Museum, Kensington) A wonderful exhibition showing just how painstaking Kubrick was. A fascinating intro via the film about Napoleon which he never got to make leads into separate areas about each of his masterpieces – which was most of them. There were plenty of film sequences to watch and artefacts such as the Durango 95 from A Clockwork Orange,  a model of the maze from The Shining and the interior of the space station from 2001: A Space Odyssey to enjoy. With the moon landing 50th anniversary coming up this latter was particularly timely. One or two of the exhibition areas seemed a little cramped but as numbers are strictly limited this didn’t cause too much inconvenience ****

On balance…..

A review of the clever new musical show Fiver currently at Southwark Playhouse #FinancialEducation

For a number of years now (actually 14 – yikes!) I have worked either full time/part time as employed/freelance in the world of personal finance education. A popular task to set young people involves asking them to imagine the life story of a £5 note, the sort of hands it might pass through and the various purposes to which it might be put. It was, therefore, with a degree of professional interest that I noted the arrival on the scene of a new(ish) British musical called simply Fiver and based on this exact premise. On what was one of the hottest evenings of the year I visited Southwark Playhouse to catch up with the opening night. Here’s my review:

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Fiver is an intriguing British musical by Alex James Ellison and Tom Lees, constructed as a series of musical vignettes as the titular bank note passes through the hands of a whole host of people. A busker played by Alex James Ellison inveigles a fiver from an audience member and sets the wheels in motion. He then becomes a narrator/chorus figure commenting on the action and bridging scenes. Incredibly, all the other roles are played by just four multi talented performers including at one point all the guests arriving for a baby shower. With just a change of accent and/or a slightly different body stance the performers conjure up a whole gallery of characters which keep the story moving along; Dan Buckley is particularly strong in this regard. Sometimes we lingered with the note’s recipients and found out more about their lives, at other points the note changed hands rapidly and we got just the merest glimpse of the temporary owners of the money. Thus a busker’s reward became a homeless person’s lifeline used to purchase a scratch card and then given in change by the shopkeeper to a customer who tucked it into a birthday card as a present…. and so on (and that’s just in the first quarter of an hour). The note is used for buying, gambling, donating, borrowing, present giving and as payment; it is lost, found, washed out to sea, used for snorting coke and narrowly avoids destruction in a washing machine. It maybe that the writers are using the premise as a huge metaphor for the vagaries and resilience of life itself but there is no doubting that the structure works well on either level.

fiver2So what’s not to like? Well unfortunately quite a bit; although I really wanted to root for this show there were a number of minor faults which manifested themselves and detracted from the overall experience. I hasten to add that there isn’t anything that isn’t fixable with a bit more consideration and tweaking but I can only judge on what I actually saw. Judging by the rapturous reaction of most of my fellow audience members I may well be in a minority but in the interests of trying to help a good show become a great show I thought I should raise the relevant issues. It seems appropriate to present my findings on this monetary odyssey as a balance sheet (albeit the reverse way round)

The music was engaging with some lovely melodies very well played and delivered BUT I can’t help thinking it wasn’t quite varied enough. There was a tendency (particularly in the first half) towards “angsty” ballads
The lyrics were witty, full of little surprises and, at times, delightful BUT I couldn’t hear them all either because of the sound balance or because of some gabbling by the performers
The book used an ingeniously simple device to introduce a large assortment of well portrayed characters BUT This wasn’t fully followed through sufficiently in the second half. At times it was almost abandoned in order to make use of other ideas which perhaps didn’t belong in this particular musical, good though they may be
The production used the space limitations well with an enforced minimal setting BUT some of the action played on the auditorium floor (as opposed to the rostra) was invisible from where I was sitting
The performers were very good, engaging, energetic and multi-talented BUT there was some poor diction particularly in the faster songs and a slight tendency towards mugging which should have been curbed by the director

fiver1Research revealed that the show had been a great deal shorter in its first incarnation (apparently forty minutes has been added in) and I think it should have been left at its original length rather than stretching the premise to a full two hours which was too long to support the central conceit. I would strongly suggest the unnecessary subplot, which involved a teacher being stalked by a letter writer, should be removed. It added nothing and was only very tenuously linked to the main arc of the story; it might well form the spine of another musical piece but had no place here. That said it did include one of the strongest musical numbers “Gotta Keep My Head Down” so I can quite understand why it was included on that level. Another number that regrettably needs to be sacrificed in order to preserve the overall integrity of the piece is “Press Hashtag To Record”. A standout number in terms of composition (shades of the master, Sondheim) and performance (hilarious delivery by Aofie Clesham) it simply had no place in this show. Indeed the whole of the second half needs careful rethinking. The “explanation” about timescales at the beginning was especially confusing. Beyond that there is probably room for a little reordering of material – the three piece song “A Fiver’s Destiny” could usefully be repositioned (and added to?) more evenly through the show for instance. There also needs to be tighter grip placed on the direction and staging – perhaps writer/MD Tom Lees needs to allow an independent eye to be cast over proceedings!

I do hope that, wearing my dual hats of theatre critic and financial education consultant, we hear more of this show in the coming years. That it is highly original, cleverly constructed and bursting with possibilities is in no doubt. There is just now a need to regroup and invest time in developing a first rate product – one with immediate interest and long term rewards. On balance, I think there is the makings of a very good show here – it is now time to speculate in order to accumulate!

Production images: Danny with a Camera

Wholely Moley!

Adrian Mole hits the West End at the Ambassadors Theatre in an exuberant return to the 1980s and it’s a hit

By my reckoning 2019 marks Adrian Mole’s 50th birthday so it’s entirely appropriate that a musical based on his teenage years should have just reached the Ambassador’s Theatre. I have followed Mr Mole through his various incarnations since the early 80s – I think I initially came across him on the radio. I recall devouring the first book more or less at a sitting and then there was the TV series with theme tune by Ian Dury and Mrs Mole played by Julie Walters (who inexplicably morphed into Lulu in Series 2!) Later variations showed him as an increasingly despondent adult (and Alison Steadman was mum) but it is at the pubescent stage that we recall him most fondly. It is to this incarnation (and indeed the original era) that the stage show returns. Here is my review:

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The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 133/4 is not actually that new a piece having started life in Adrian’s (and original author Sue Townsend’s) home city of Leicester at the Curve Theatre. Jake Brunger and Pippa Cleary’s adaptation of the first book in the Mole saga is pretty faithful to the original in terms of content and of tone and together with director Luke Sheppard they have been developing and refining the show since the first production in 2015. Their care, attention to detail and, yes, love for what they have been doing, clearly shows in the end result.

Adrian is still the same bemused and beleaguered “intellectual” whose parents are in the middle of splitting up but is probably more interested in writing poetry to send to the BBC, mooning after Pandora (“I adore ya” – quick nod to Ian Dury?) Braithwaite and avoiding the attentions of school bully Barry Kent…oh yes, and measuring a certain part of his anatomy. Other regular characters from the book also appear – best friend and potential love rival Nigel, Adrian’s opinionated Gran, the next door neighbour Mr “Creep” Lucas, disgusting beetroot-sandwich eating OAP Bert Baxter and so on. Even the dog gets in on the act in the guise of a nifty puppet created out of the ink-splattered pages of the protagonist’s diary. Thus if you’ve read the book(s) you’ll be well satisfied.

Even if you haven’t it is a simple enough tale to follow and some ingenious production ideas keep the whole thing rolling along nicely. Various hidden compartments allow the set to be swiftly changed to diverse internal and external locations and costumes, setting and props are a pure nostalgia fest for those of us who lived through the early 80s. There is also some particular fun to be had from the adults in the cast doubling as Adrian’s classmates complete with aged wrinkles, moustaches and hairy legs.

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There was a tendency towards the ramshackle which was entirely in keeping with the mood of the production and which actually added to the fun. In fact I’m actually pretty convinced that this was all carefully orchestrated and therefore all the more impressive to keep it looking fresh. The pace was frenetic – quite rightly so – for most of the show but, particularly in the second half, some moments of quiet reflection and tense dramatic situations took the show out of the realms of it being just another comic musical. Adrian’s growing dismay with his parents’ antics with new unsuitable partners was actually quite touching.

The youngster playing Adrian was absolutely spot on – on the night I saw it Rufus Kampa did the honours. It is no mean feat to hold together a West End musical and yet this is what he did. If the other three lads (playing the part in rotation) are of the same calibre then it’s hats off to the casting director. I was equally impressed by Rebecca Nardin’s turn as Pandora; once again she leapt straight out of the pages of the book and was exactly as I had always imagined her. The other two children were Jeremiah Waysome as a cheeky Nigel and Jack Gale as menacing Barry (the latter also took care of puppeteering duties with the dog).

Most impressive of the adult cast was John Hopkins as a (surely psychotic) headmaster and the oily next door neighbour who steals Mrs Mole (Amy Ellen Richardson) away by tangoing her around her kitchen  – this scene was a particular highlight. However the cast were universally very good and even the older adults threw themselves into proceedings with boundless energy.

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I didn’t find the songs particularly memorable but neither were they intrusive or dull. Many were pastiches of other styles – there was a touch of Les Mis to the staging of “Take A Stand” when Adrian and his classmates defy school convention by (shock horror) wearing red socks. And the lyrics were a riot of surprising rhymes of which W.S. Gilbert might have been proud (I don’t suppose anyone ever again will think to rhyme “BO” with “menstrual flow” – it worked at the time!)

I can’t say it was the best musical I have ever seen but it was certainly one of the most exuberant and it’s great to see a truly British creation brought so vividly to life. If you’re an original fan of the books I think you’ll truly appreciate this adaptation. Highly recommended.*

So, a great show but I do wonder what some of the youngsters in the audience made of it. I’m sure the it has reached the West End partly because of the success of Matilda which would appeal (technically anyway) to the same demographic. However, whereas Roald Dahl’s story was palpably aimed at children I never thought Adrian Mole was (even though I recall it being a popular read among the adolescent age group). Now with the distance of getting on for forty years I’m afraid a lot of the references that I found hilarious might have passed them by.AM1

My advice, therefore, would be that if you are taking along youngsters as a summer holiday treat it might be wisest to get them clued in. Play them some of the music that was in vogue and introduce them to some of the TV and films of the era. Above all help them recognise the 1980s as a time when mobile phones and modern technology was in its infancy, when social media was an unheard of entity and when pubescent teenagers wrote in diaries rather than kept blogs or Snapchatted about their lives. That said, although it was absolutely a different world there are some things which have remained eternal – not least the idea that the rest of the world just doesn’t get us. As Adrian himself muses “Perhaps when I am famous and my diary is discovered, people will understand the torment of being a 13 3/4 year old undiscovered intellectual”.

*This review (in shortened form) first appeared on the LTR website
Production photos by Pamela Raith

FOOTNOTE

After leaving the show I walked past the Palace Theatre where Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is playing. It suddenly struck me that these literary phenomena bore comparison. Both Townsend and Rowling begin their series with a young male protagonist of similar age and followed them through to a somewhat disillusioned adulthood. Harry and Adrian have similar owlish, spectacle wearing demeanours and, crucially, parental issues. Their best friends are (Ron and Nigel) who are cast in similar moulds and the key female characters (Pandora and Hermione) are intelligent, independent and clearly upper middle class young women. Perhaps both writers were tapping into some sort of common experience which is maybe why both have been incredibly successful. And what about those ageing purveyors of sage advice Professor Dumbledore and Bert Baxter – or is that pushing the comparison too far?