(From the Summer 2017 run at the Menier Chocolate Factory
Theatre). Some actors have now left the cast:
(seen at the afternoon performance on 6th August 2017).
Back when the internet was young, and Theatremonkey.com even younger, a
Nottingham teenager around 14 and a bit years old, emailed the Theatremonkey
office to inform us that the Adelphi Theatre had an extra row not shown on our
seating plan. From that, a “John Tydeman / Adrian Mole” correspondence evolved,
an eager slew of reviews, articles – and occasional short plays too. All of
unique, impressive quality. A decade or so later, the wider world now recognises
and appreciates Jake Brunger’s talents.
This isn’t the first time Mole has been adapted as a musical. At the height of
1980s “Mole Mania,” Wyndhams Theatre hosted a hugely successful but questionably
written version. It didn’t work particularly well, and nor, really, did the TV
adaptations. Come 2017, however, Brunger and co-creator Pippa Cleary have found
the key, and unlocked its true stage potential.
Brunger and Cleary have realised that, while the book is the cerebral musings of
a frustrated nearly 14 year old, a stage version must be situation rather than
character-led. That vital difference gives us not just an insight into
Townsend’s imaginative characters, but an always involving, frequently
hilarious, sometimes bittersweet insight into an entire world beyond his
We follow Adrian from one booze-addled New Year’s Day to the next, as he loses
and gains mother, step mother, tonsils, a bully, a pensioner and most of all, a
treacle-haired girlfriend… all in the space of 12 months. Oh, and spots, of
Part cartoon, part drama, part, well, fly-on-the-wall, Luke “In The Heights”
Sheppard gives us a (big and) bouncy energy on a crazily inventive Tom Rogers
set. Rebecca Howell obliges with some terrific choreography – Adrian and Pandora
getting an unforgettable pas-de-deux, Doreen Slater a chance to let rip, and
more – and Alex Parker’s orchestra carry us along for the ride.
Witty dialogue and sparky lyrics, a whole bunch of cracking songs – “Perfect
Mother” and “Now That I’m With You” being just two highlights – and a Nativity
Play that needs to be written in full (as well as requiring to be seen to be
Even better, the cast are around the correct ages of the characters. Three teams
share duties, and on this occasion Adrian was calling himself Ben Lewis. Not
being played by Ben Lewis, just for some reason Adrian was calling himself Ben.
That’s all. I’m certain of the fact. Similarly, Pandora, undercover as “Asha
Banks,” had a soft steel core to render any teenage boy helpless in her
presence. Certainly one Amir Wilson, as neatly done sidekick Nigel called
himself, agreed. Making up the quartet, Connor Davis (Barry Kent) is not only an
able singer and comedian, but can add puppeteer to his CV. Simon Lipkin should
be afraid, very afraid – and not just for his dinner money.
In the grown-up department, Dean Chisnall is ever-reliable as George Mole. How
the idiot storage heater (bet nobody under 40 remembers those!) salesman let the
vivacious Kelly Price (Pauline Mole) go, though, is inexplicable… John Hopkins
as Mr “Creep” Lucas really got lucky there. He’s one heck of a headmaster too –
“Popeye Scruton” to the max. Slipping too far into Beano territory perhaps, but
As teacher Miss Elf, Lara Denning makes plenty of a smaller role too, but really
comes into her own later as George’s hilariously uncouth lover Doreen Slater,
with a scene-stealing song and dance routine to match. Gay Soper as Grandma Mole
is her usual delight, her bracing advice to her grandson a comedic highlight.
Barry James (Bert Baxter) is also fabulously cantankerous, with one of the best
commentaries on a Royal Wedding, ever.
Sure, there are faults. Adrian’s trade mark “missing the point every time” isn’t
always at the fore, perhaps, and there is a certain softening of general
attitudes towards children, gender roles and authority that isn’t true to the
spirit of the times. The show itself also takes a while to get going, with the
early classroom scene a little long once the basics have been established.
Having the adults play extra children so soon is both mildly disconcerting and
distracting (pigtailed pensioners, Ms Price keeping the dads in the audience
interested; moving on) though some good one-liners just about style it out. The
second act has most of the pacier fun too, though again that is probably as it
A few anachronisms also slip in. “Multi-tasking” wasn’t a 1980s phrase, nobody
had nylon school rucksacks (we used sports-bags, as Adrian’s own diary notes).
Cordless home-phones were a little later, as were spiffy stage-management
equipment, super-soaker water-pistols and smart wooden lockers. On the other
hand, I think Pandora may well have coined “BHS” as a convenient abbreviation
long before Mr Green did so.
None of this matters a jot, though, in this riotously colourful, tuneful and
always joyous celebration of adolescence. I admit, I’ll also add a personal
pride in knowing one of the creators from “way back when,” too; but that aside,
this stands as a definitive version of a much-loved book on stage. Long may it
continue to be seen and performed by school and other groups, a celebration of
British pre-internet adolescent anxiety – for which one Mole speaks for us all.