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Review Round-Ups

Did critics think Adrian Mole was a Pandora's Box?

Pippa Cleary and Jake Brunger are behind this adaptation of Sue Townsend's 1982 novel

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James FitzGerald, WhatsOnStage


"It kicks off, like the first book, with the 13-year-old reciting his New Year's resolutions. "Help the poor and ignorant. Starting, of course, with my parents." Misunderstood by those around him, perpetually lovesick and aware of his frustrated poet's soul, Adrian is on one hand the perfect picture of precociousness and pomposity. But then he is also obsessed with the length of his penis and popping the pimples on his face."

"Townsend, it has often been noted, was not a teenage boy when she created Mole. But her stories are painfully relatable regardless of gender, or era for that matter. In its costumes, musical stylings, and endless references to the likes of C&A, Dallas, and the wedding of Charles and Diana, the lavish details of this show do pander to those craving an '80s nostalgia-fest."

"But with a little bit of political messaging about social equality designed to apply to the here and now, it resonates with everyone, not just those who remember Maggie. It's also about love, sex, and other universal things that you don't have to be an '80s kid or a teenage boy to be interested in."

Paul Vale, The Stage


"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."

Ann Treneman, The Times


"It's January 1 and Adrian Mole has something to say, having seen his mum singing on the landing the night before. "Dear Diary," he announces. "I think my parents may be alcoholics." Benjamin Lewis, as Adrian, looks at us, his specs round, his face perplexed, his tone one of faux adult exasperation. You really can't help but laugh."

"He's still funny, our only intellectual and budding poet who is aged 13¾ . Never mind that this musical is no match for the 1982 book by the late great Sue Townsend. It's good, if a little nostalgic to see it on stage, written by Jake Brunger and Pippa Cleary, who also composed the music. This musical, which was premiered in 2015 in Mole's home town of Leicester, has been oomphed up for this outing at the Menier, although it retains the original director, Luke Sheppard."

"You can't resist Adrian, although I had little desire to revisit 1981, which, looking back, was hardly a bumper year, the highlight being the 'fairytale' wedding of Prince Charles and Princess Diana. In the past it was the warring parents, Pauline and George Mole, who were seen as the mainstay of this musical. This time things have changed, though. Kelly Price, as Pauline, and Dean Chisnall, as George, turn in energetic and song-tastic performances."

"It's the young ones who grab you. Lewis gives a brilliant stand-out performance as Adrian, engaging, funny, affecting. Asha Banks plays his not-so-secret love, Pandora, with fantastic panache. 'My name's Pandora,' she announces, swinging her ponytail like a lethal weapon. 'But you can call me Box.'"

"The set, by Tom Rogers, is less impressive, too busy for this small stage. Doors open and slam with abandon, props are constantly being wheeled in and out. The adults often dress up as Adrian's classmates, a device that becomes distracting. The dancing is beyond enthusiastic and, at times, I feared for the stage floor."

Michael Billington, The Guardian


"Townsend's 1982 bestseller has been turned into a full-scale musical. In extracting a narrative from the book, it inevitably sacrifices some of the deliciously Pooterish detail of its boy-diarist but it is a fresh and funny show from the young songwriting team of Jake Brunger (book and lyrics) and Pippa Cleary (music and lyrics). They clearly have the potential to inject new life into the anaemic British musical."

"The pair have carefully preserved the period of the original: this is the world of Mrs Thatcher, the Charles and Di wedding, Dallas and jokes about spelling mistakes in the Guardian. It is also a time of growing female assertiveness, with both Adrian's mum and his girlfriend Pandora putting the principles of The Female Eunuch into practice. I couldn't quite believe that Adrian, in the early '80s, would have used a phrase like "it objectifies women" to spurn a saucy pin-up magazine, but otherwise the show effortlessly recreates a vanished era."

"Luke Sheppard's production is swift, lively and makes good use of an ensemble in which the adults turn, in a second, into blazered or gym-slipped schoolkids. But the show rests heavily on the shoulders of Adrian, whom Benjamin Lewis – one of three boys playing the role – invests with the perfect blend of owlish solemnity and adolescent vulnerability. He also sings and dances very well. Asha Banks is a suitably self-possessed Pandora and among the adults there is striking work from Kelly Price as Adrian's fugitive mum and John Hopkins as both her posturing lover and a tyrannical headmaster straight out of Dotheboys Hall. As a musical, it has bounce and charm and appealed equally to myself and my 12-year-old advisor."

Dominic Cavendish, The Telegraph


"What seals the deal on the show being so much more than a nostalgic museum-piece is that the principals don't just inhabit the characters, they embody youth on the cusp of change. Tightly drilled performances – no cue missed, no gag dropped – work in tandem with heart-skipping spontaneity so that we're spared stage-school "showiness"."

"Watching brilliant 14-year-old Benjamin Lewis (one of three Moles) at the opening matinee, blinking in astonishment through super-square spectacles, the sheer freshness of Townsend's creation hit me anew. Everything seems to be happening to this weedy, would-be "intellectual" kid for the first time, from contending with menaces-demanding bully-boy Barry (Connor Davies) and making precocious pronouncements of age-limited perspicacity ("Just my luck to have an assertive mother") to trembling with ill-disguised desire for posh, proto-feminist Pandora (Asha Banks, 13, the perfect mix of poise, aloofness and vitality)."

The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾ runs at the Menier Chocolate Factory until 9 September.

Buy tickets for The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾