Review: Sue Townsend’s The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾ The Musical, Curve

Reviewed by Ian Foster Aged 35 ¾ 

“I’m a Mole and not a mouse”

Pre-show
7pm
Just seen the director Luke Sheppard, urgh he’s way too much younger than me.


7.10pm

Just seen the writers Pippa Cleary and Jake Brunger, they’re practically children too. Apparently they all met at uni – they may be winning now but I reckon I did more pub crawls than them though.


7.18pm

I LOVE that the programme is attached to the book itself so for just £5, you get both. You get the feeling Sue Townsend would definitely have approved. (And she did approve of the show, being an active part of the creative process until the sad news of her death last year.) 


7.27pm

There’s four kids sharing the role of Adrian, and three for the other three major kids’ roles. Tonight we’ve got
Adrian – Joel Fossard-Jones 
Barry – Harrison Slater 
Nigel – Samuel Small 
Pandora – Imogen Gurney 
I bet they’re ridiculously talented. I hate young people. Why didn’t my parents put me on the stage as a child, I could have been Wigan’s answer to Bonnie Langford.
Showtime – First half
7.33pm
Aw man, there’s a puppet dog. Why puppets, why? Don’t they know I don’t like ’em and am only pretending to be halfway ok with them now…


7.45pm

Those schoolkids! Rofl as the kids might say. 


7.47pm

I really do love Rosie Ashe.


7.58pm

Unsurprisingly, the young actors really are very good. Gurney’s sauntering self-entitlement as Pandora is cracking and Samuel Small as Nigel will definitely be one to look out for.


8.04pm

Tim Rogers’ fold-out set design works really well, I bet he was born in the 90s or something, urgh. 


8.20pm

Just remembered, Kirsty Hoiles (Adrian’s mum) sang a seriously lovely song by Elliot Davis called Still, I should put it on a playlist when I get in. She’s good here too. 
Interval

8.40pm

Aw, I’m rather enjoying this. Whether deliberate or not, the echoes of other musicals play really nicely – I got affectionate hints of Billy Elliot’s ‘The Letter’, Matilda’s ‘Loud’ and Les Mis’ barricades but the old-school Hollywood charm, via lacrosse, of ‘Look At That Girl’ was probably the best bit thus far. 


8.48pm

I want an ice-cream but I’m too cheap to get one. I never get one these days. Where’s your mum when you need her?
8.56pm
Spot-check on the audience around me, they’re all liking the show. They’re also loving the ice-cream, I knew I should have splashed out, grr.

Second half
 

9,03pm

Am loving Amy Booth-Steel’s work, as always and especially with this vivacious multi-roling, but I’d love to see her take a dramatically different choice of role next. I’m excited to see her show her versatility.


9.12pm

The lighting by Howard Hudson is particularly good, taking us in and out of the moments in Adrian’s mind – these diary-writing moments are possibly too few and far between though, Adrian’s voice really is one of the most iconic bits about the character and it’s not always front and centre in the show here. 
But without making it a one-boy-show, how to fix it? 
Good question, we’ll come back to this later. 
No we won’t, it’s too hard.


9.46pm

Can’t help but feel the second half isn’t quite living up to the first. The episodic nature of the show, borrowing from the episodic nature of the book natch, seems to have lost a little of the energy that propelled us to the interval. I hope they’ve got something up their sleeve.


9.50pm

They do, the nativity scene. I would happily pay just to see this sequence again. 


10.00pm

Well there you have it, a show with lots of lovely moments in it and a lot of potential. Fossard-Jones makes a great bespectacled leading man but too often it feels like he’s a bystander in what is meant to be his story. But there’s something apt about seeing a show so connected to Leicester here at the Curve, with its admirable record of nurturing new musical theatre writing, and I’m glad to have been a part of it. Even if so any talented young people were involved. 😉
Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 4th April

Looking ahead to 2015

I realise I’m just adding (belatedly) to the plethora of 2015 features already published but so many of them trod the boringly familiar ground of forthcoming West End shows (and in the Evening Standard’s case, managed to recommend booking for three shows already sold out from their list of six). So I’ve cast my net a little wider and chosen a few random categories for just some of the shows I’m recommending and looking forward to in 2015.

Continue reading “Looking ahead to 2015”

Re-review: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Theatre Royal Drury Lane

“So we’ve lost a few children along the way, we’ve all learned something though”

One of the hottest tickets of the year is a golden one. London gets its second major adaptation of a Roald Dahl story into a big budget piece of musical theatre as the long-awaited Charlie and the Chocolate Factory finally opens its gates at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane. And taking his cue from Willy Wonka, director Sam Mendes has mixed it with love and made it taste good, displaying, along with designer Mark Thompson, just as much wit and invention as the candyman himself in bringing this world to such entertaining life on the stage.

David Greig’s book remains largely faithful to Dahl’s novel, but expanding the poverty-stricken domestic set-up of Charlie Bucket and his extended family as the young boy dreams of finding one of five elusive passes into Wonka’s mysterious factory. As the tickets are found one by one in a series of vividly realised tableaux, his hopes recede but the presence of a shadowy tramp-like figure ensures that there’s soon a golden twinkle in Charlie’s eye and a life-changing journey can begin. Continue reading “Re-review: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Theatre Royal Drury Lane”

Review: Finding Neverland, Curve

“That’s what makes him beautiful, and that’s what makes him sad”

One assumes it is the reality of funding a big-budget musical these days, but there are 17 names above the title of the musical adaptation of Finding Neverland, 17! The most famous of those is Harvey Weinstein whose Miramax studio made the Johnny Depp/Kate Winslet starring film and it is his driving force that has seen the show make its world premiere at Leicester’s Curve theatre, directed by Rob Ashford. The story of how writer JM Barrie found the creative spark for Peter Pan through his growing connection, after a chance encounter, with the Llewelyn Davies family of lost boys and their smart mother Sylvia is entirely charming in Weinstein’s hands. And given his Hollywood track record, it should be no surprise that the show achieves just the right level of gooey sentimentality, whilst avoiding becoming overly twee or sickly sweet.

Peter Pan references are gorgeously threaded throughout the tale, a series of moments that provide a whole set of inspirations for his new play after suffering critical disappointment with his last. Whether a stunning bit of a shadow work or a glimpse of the night sky – which leads to one of the loveliest songs of the night, ‘Neverland’ – Ashford ensures they don’t become overplayed, especially in the restraint with which he employs the flying gear. Scott Pask’s scenic design allows for some grand flourishes in the key set pieces, some of which provide a little more stage magic than others and Ashford’s own choreography is used sparingly but with great purpose to lift the potential of scenes, especially in the pirate tango when the writer duels with his psyche – personified by Hook – as to how the story should properly end.  Continue reading “Review: Finding Neverland, Curve”