The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 3/4 The Musical

Date 28th March 2022
Society Chelmsford Young Generation Amateur Musical Society
Venue Cramphorn Theatre, Chelmsford
Type of Production Musical
Director Jimmy Hooper (asst Jill Burtenshaw)
Musical Director Bryan Cass

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Author: Jess Pether

I’m a huge fan of all the Adrian Mole diaries but the first and most famous book is by far my favourite. The copy in my bookcase is well worn but much loved, yet I missed the chance to see the musical when it appeared in the West End. Therefore I was delighted to be asked to come and see Young Gen put on the amateur youth premier of the show in Chelmsford. 

I interpret the voice of Adrian in the books as being moany, pompous and dry, so I wasn’t sure how this was going to come across on stage. But now I’ve seen the show, it has given all of the characters in the book a new lease of life in my head. Adrian is a self-professed intellectual with dysfunctional parents and the musical takes place across a year of his life. He writes angsty poetry, has terrible skin and falls in love, all in the space of 12 months. 

First impressions are important so I was delighted to take my seat to a soundtrack of eighties pop songs and be staring at a very impressive set adorned with posters of films and pop stars of the time. I was even more impressed when assistant director Jill told me that many of the posters had been created by the cast. 

Although it might be obvious because of the title of the show, I was surprised by just how little Adrian leaves the stage throughout the whole performance. Gene Gardner did an incredible job in this role. He was engaging, funny and line-perfect with a brilliant singing voice to boot. He also had amazing physical comedy, especially when it came to facial expressions. A very impressive performance. 

Adrian’s parents, George and Pauline Mole, were playing by Hayden Wagland and Bethany Irvine. They made a believable couple and gave the characters a wonderful third dimension that I didn’t get from the books. Hayden showed a good range of emotions, especially when Pauline leaves him for the next-door neighbour. He struggled occasionally with some of the singing but a really solid performance overall. Bethany was feisty and funny, and I particularly loved her harmony singing with Adrian in the song My Lost Love. Bethany showed a great range of acting skills in the part and was excellent. 

The love of Adrian’s life is new girl at school Pandora (or Box), and she was played superbly by Anna Edmondson. Anna was one of the standout performers for me and I can see her going far in the world of performing arts. She had a strong voice that seemed beyond her years and I especially liked all the small nuances she added to the character, like a hair flick here or a flirty look there. Her duet with Adrian in act two had superb harmonies from both performers. 

The two characters who end up with Adrian’s parents are Mr Lucas, played by Tommy Edwards, and Doreen Slater, played by Lucy Burrows. Tommy absolutely looked the part of a smarmy adulterer, with a tuft of chest hair poking out his shirt in which was nestled a gold chain. His bushy 80’s moustache and very tight white trousers completed the look and I loved his rendition and tango dancing in Begging You For More with Pauline. Thinking I’d been introduced to all the main characters in act one, I was over the moon as soon as Lucy appeared as Doreen in act two, picking up a set of red underwear and speaking in a strong northern brogue. I’m gutted we didn’t see more of this character because it was a master class in acting. Just the right level of OTT, Lucy is one of the people I’ll remember most from the show. 

The comedy didn’t stop there. Bert Baxter is a nonagenarian that Adrian volunteers to visit and help out as part of a scheme at school and Sam Acton had the pleasure of playing him. He produced some of the biggest laughs in the show, so much so that my companion laughed solidly for about two minutes when Bert saw a letter to Adrian was addressed to ‘A Mole’ and exclaimed it very loudly whilst laughing his head off. Brilliant character acting. 

There were a host of other principal characters with smaller parts and each of them did really well. I loved Fortune Ibrahim’s portrayal of the fiercely loyal and loving Grandma Mole and Fortune had a beautiful voice. Joe Papalie as school bully Barry Kent was suitably cheeky and gave a great rap performance and Adrian’s best friend Nigel was played well by Dara Gleeson. Lauren Eley and Jess Martin as teachers Mrs Scruton and Miss Elf completed the line-up perfectly. 

I was told the musical usually only has 10 cast members in it, which I would love to see because this show worked incredibly well with a cast of 30. The chorus numbers were full of life and energy and I particularly enjoyed Pandora’s entrance number Look at That Girl. Each and every member of the cast, from eight to 17, gave their all and I could see what a blast they were all having. They each added their own element of comedy to scenes and brought the show to life. 

With more modern shows, it’s easy for the cast to get costumes together themselves (especially as a lot of 80’s fashion has come back around!) and overall, the outfits were perfect for the period. There were probably a few here and there I would question as being right for the time but they were all so colourful and vibrant I didn’t mind. Well done to the musical director Bryan Cass and the superb sounding orchestra, and I also loved the choreography throughout the whole show, which was clever yet simple enough for all.

The Adrian Mole musical exceeded my expectations and I think it was a perfect show for the group to put on. It was an enjoyable evening out and has made me appreciate the books in a completely different way. Well done Young Gen.

Jess Pether for Christine Davidson District 8