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The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 3/4 review at Menier Chocolate Factory, London – ‘fresh and funny’

The cast of The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 3/4 at Menier Chocolate Factory, London. Photo: Tristram Kenton The cast of The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 3/4 at Menier Chocolate Factory, London. Photo: Tristram Kenton
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This musical adaptation of Sue Townsend’s The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 3/4 first saw light of day at Leicester’s Curve in 2015.

Following extensive revisions director Luke Sheppard’s new production suffers from a surfeit of visual gags but otherwise it succinctly captures the essence of Townsend’s original.

Regular collaborators Pippa Cleary and Jake Brunger prove once again that they are one of the most exciting musical theatre writing teams working in the UK today. Cleary’s playful score and lyrics magnify the emotional range of Adrian Mole’s troubled teenage years, while Brunger’s adaptation of Townsend’s book draws amusing parallels between kids behaving like grown-ups and adults like children. Sheppard’s occasionally frenetic direction echoes this, with each member of the versatile cast doubling as peripheral characters.

The richly talented ensemble is key to the ultimate success of the production. Benjamin Lewis as Adrian, and Asha Banks and Amir Wilson, as his friends Pandora and Nigel, deliver astonishingly mature, witty and articulate performances. Together they form a slick team. There are excellent comic turns too from John Hopkins as smooth-talking Mr Lucas and Barry James’ as a carefully understated Bert Baxter while Kelly Price and Dean Chisnall provide the thrust of the narrative as Adrian’s conflicted parents.

Adapting a such well-loved character for the stage must be a hugely daunting task. But Cleary and Brunger have risen to the challenge, creating a joyous British musical comedy that feels funny, poignant and – despite being set in the 1980s – remarkably fresh.

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Fresh, funny and energetic musical adaptation of Sue Townsend's much-loved novel