Adrian Mole the Musical

I’ve posted this blog on World Theatre Day 2020 (27th March) as a reminder of a terrific show seen last year. All entertainment forms have been cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic crisis, so its a perfect opportunity to reminisce.

I enjoyed an afternoon matinee performance of this limited season production on August 8th 2019. Having recently read ALL the Mole books I was intrigued to find out how Adrian’s first diary (aged 13 ¾) would be interpreted on the stage. The show was extremely well done and at times was absolutely hilarious. In fact, for me, the fun began when I took my seat before curtain up. 80s music was emanating from speakers and I began to quietly sing and bop my head, exactly the same as a woman in front of me. Making small talk with her and reminiscing, she admitted her teenage daughter was so mortified by her mother’s behaviour; the girl had sought refuge in the bathroom until the show began! We laughingly agreed it was something Adrian would do too.

The story was concentrated on the first year of Adrian’s diary and covered the major events well; meeting Bert (although he was cleaner & less slovenly here, and more politically correct in thought), Pandora’s arrival at school and her going out with Nigel before moving onto Adrian, Mole parents separation, bullying, red sock protest, tonsillitis, Bouncy magazine references, Royal Wedding and the alternative Christmas nativity. The terror headmaster, dizzy teacher, bully Barry, formidable Grandma, Mole dog (but not Bert’s dog Sabre) were all present. The stage production highlighted the early 80s era very well particularly with Adrian’s bedroom paraphernalia. I spotted signs of Grange Hill, Olivia Newton-John, Buckeroo, Orville the Duck, Bagpuss and a Noddy duvet. As Adrian’s bedroom morphed into the Mole living room/kitchen area, the original Noddy wallpaper would have been too much. But Adrian’s snorkel anorak hanging by the door and a super woofer hi-fi in the living area were other signs of the Eighties, just as George expecting his wife to have dinner on the table & Adrian saying Pandora could work in a cake shop after marrying him, screams of male chauvinism at the time.

For artistic licence the storyline was subtly fudged around the edges, but in a minimalistic sort of way. A few incidents and references for example, came from books further down the line, but all were true to the overall story. Adrian’s red sock protest got him suspended, he wasn’t victorious over the headmaster at all, and he didn’t stand up to bully Barry, Adrian’s Grandma took on Barry and his Dad instead. But for the musical it was best our hero came out on top. And although Bert did have a heart attack, it had nothing to do with the electricity going off at the Moles residence during the Royal Wedding! In the books the Mole telephone line is cut off, not their power, and the Indian family next door with a recuperating Bert Baxter, descends on Adrian’s home when their TV fails. Grandma’s dislike of “foreigners” comes to the fore here in the book, and this aspect of 70s/80s racism wouldn’t go down well with today’s audience. In the musical Pauline tries to explain to Adrian why she is leaving him and his Dad George. She laments in a beautiful song “20 years together just 17 at the start”. But later books reveal that the Moles married because Pauline was pregnant with Adrian, so at the very least the maths are wrong considering Adrian isn’t 14 yet. After having his tonsils removed, Adrian’s dream about Barry Kent receiving the Nobel poetry prize, harks toward later books where Barry becomes a renowned writer and poet. The Mole parents get back together, but not right after Adrian’s successful (and accidental) comedic Christmas play. The Mole’s relationship breakdown was amazingly portrayed through the exquisite harmonization of singing between George/Pauline on breaking up and Pauline/Grandma during a breakup altercation. These scenes were heart rending, incredibly moving and beautifully done. I wasn’t the only one brushing away a tear and gulping down a sob.

The adult actors largely transformed into classmates of Adrian for school scenes. It was amusing to see Grandma as a gum chewing gal with attitude, and the sight of Mr Lucas (with moustache) skipping onto the stage wearing pigtails and short skirt garnered quite a few laughs. The outrageous, over the top flirtation scenes between Mr Lucas/Pauline, Doreen/George, with a naive Adrian unwittingly caught in the middle, were very funny. More laughter came with the extravagant interpretation of Adrian’s alternative Christmas school play. References to a family planning clinic, no room at the inn as Jerusalem playing Man Utd, Pandora as Mary giving a convincing auditory birth scene, Mary’s death (I think) with some sort of resurrection afterwards (not sure who) were all funny, yet thought provoking at times as well. After all without Christmas and the birth of Jesus, there is no Easter and the resurrection to save all mankind.

The funniest part of the show was undoubtedly where Adrian had his tonsils out and dreamed he had died.  This plays on the well known fact that Adrian Mole was a consummate hypochondriac, with melodrama for any affliction. So Adrian’s parents, Grandma, Bert, Nigel & Pandora all grief stricken, gather at the grave side to say goodbye. Suddenly Grandma becomes a wailing banshee figure sounding rather like Sarah Brightman in Phantom of the Opera, with arms waving like Kate Bush doing her Wuthering Heights video (I do love both artists). Then banshee Grandma fades into the mists, only to return as a wizardly looking God and Adrian asks to be returned to earth as he has people needing him. Along with the audience I was crying with laughter at this spectacle, it was so good and brilliantly done.

It was a terrific show that kept true to the realms of the Adrian Mole story of teenage angst, school life and family/friend relationships. The whole cast were amazing, but a special mention must go to the younger cast members, who without their superb and highly talented performances, the show would never have been possible. Bravo!

World Theatre Day Celebration: Adrian Mole the Musical. Photo credit abmj

Coronavirus Debuts on the World Stage

Shakespeare’s play “As You Like It” contains the phrase “All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players”, and never before have these words meant so much. Using this theatre terminology, the Coronavirus is like a new production and the global population of Earth the actors on the stage. There are the major and minor principal parts, the chorus and all the associates involved in the stage management. Everyone involved learns how to interpret the new script from their own viewpoint, with the aim of creating a satisfactory outcome for the audience (general population in this case)

The worldwide Coronavirus pandemic has starkly highlighted our 21st century technological world is NOT prepared or set up for such a catastrophe. Virtually every facet of society from governments, politicians, business, commerce, manufacturing, employers, and education areas have all had weaknesses exposed. Health and care work although by nature are prepared for a health crisis, are vulnerable due to the funding losses in the UK taking a distinct toll. Science & technology will be relied upon to research a vaccine solution and provide technical medical equipment, to aid staff in caring for those afflicted by Covid-19. But this will need time and monetary resources. So in ALL AREAS there is an element of catch up being played in dealing with, and understanding, the new script called Coronavirus.

With political leaders like Boris Johnson & Donald Trump for example making daily announcements, what they say has much more gravitas in these uncertain times. As a result the impact of their words can have devastating consequences. President Trump in a news conference mentioned chloroquine or hydroxychloroquine as a potential wonder drug in the Covid-19 pandemic fight, with little evidence so far to back this claim. Minutes later his own drugs chief advisor expressed caution, saying clinical trials would need to be approved. Used in malaria treatments, within days there were reports of at least three overdoses in Nigeria. A US couple self administered chloroquine phosphate used to clean fish tanks, believing it protected against the Coronavirus. The man died and the woman was seriously ill.  Auto-immune diseases such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis are also treated with chloroquine, and I’ve read tweets originating from the US dated around March 21st expressing difficulty in getting such medications, apparently because by Presidential order the government has taken over the entire supply! President Trump has stated he would like the US open and raring to go by Easter, but I highly doubt anywhere in the world will have this crisis “wrapped up” by then.

Our own Prime Minister Boris Johnson suggested 12 weeks as a timeframe, and I thought that was fanciful thinking. He also suggested that manufacturers such as the car industry could adapt their processes to make ventilators, for which there is a desperate shortage. It’s one thing for producers of alcoholic beverages for consumption adapting to create more hand sanitisers, it’s quite another to expect a company to create a complex medical product with no background knowledge on the subject what so ever. In the last 24 hours, I’ve heard and read about reports of qualified medics and engineers getting together and creating simple workable and easily produced ventilators, which could be ready for use to fill the void within a short space of time. These would probably provide essential relief to patients either preventing the need for/or until a higher tech ventilator was available. The English Ox Vent prototype has been put forward to the Cabinet Office UK, and at the time of writing it seems nothing has happened so far. When reading about this on Twitter, another prototype the Covid Emergency Ventilator created by a doctor utilising his military experience, seems to be already in production in Wales after the Welsh government gave approval. Another twist in the medical supply saga of Britain came from Jennifer Rankin @JenniferMerode the Guardian Brussels correspondent, who tweeted and I quote “using UK & EU sources the UK was not participating in the EU procurement schemes to buy ventilators, protective gear or coronavirus testing kits”.  WHY, especially with Ireland apparently being a major source of ventilators and a close neighbour? But of course although the country is in a transition phase to leave the EU “Brexit means Brexit” and probably going alone on this, is the Conservatives way of thinking.

Boris would like retired health personnel to return to the front line, to be unpaid health support workers (something the cancelled student nurse placements would have helped with), to underpin NHS staffs that do not have enough basic protective gear. Also, a 250,000 volunteer army of people are encouraged to step forward as NHS Volunteer Responders, to become ancillary workers to provide transport and delivery services to patients, or become telephone moral boosters/counsellors. “Your Country Needs You” springs to mind, but with the call to stay at home, minimal testing so no idea who is healthy/isn’t healthy, and the distinct possibility of the requirement for a DBS/enhanced DBS check (which takes ages); this is not a straightforward suggestion. I’ve known for years the NHS depends on, and places a heavy reliance on volunteers as funding cuts became deeper. The system is creaking at the seams, as verified by my almost 100 year old mother-in-law living in rural Suffolk. Her doctor’s surgery called today to ask if she could get someone to collect her medication, normally delivered to the village hall and their volunteer run post office (now both closed). I think her reaction was a mix confusion, bewilderment and alarm. Thankfully she has a small core of people (care givers/neighbours/friends) I’m sure she can turn too.

These are some of my thoughts regarding a few of the actions of those in high office. It is for my own future reference I’ve documented them, and as I said we all play a part in this crisis. Undoubtedly it has brought out some of the best and worst in all of us, but that’s for another time.

Seven Poems That Have Stayed With Me a Lifetime

World Poetry Day is celebrated on March 21st and I got to thinking about poems that have remained with me throughout my life. Poetry was NOT a subject on the reading itinerary at home, but I recall as a toddler much enjoying nursery rhymes.

HEY DIDDLE DIDDLE– My all time favourite nursery rhyme and I can still recall the picture book with a huge smiling cow jumping over the crescent shaped man-in-the-moon, with a fiddling cat, a laughing dog, and a very lifelike run-away dish and spoon underneath!

Around the same time I was savouring nursery rhymes; my Uncle Harry gave me a gift of a small book, where the narrative was a long poem. The author is unknown to me, the book long gone, but the poem was committed to memory. SO NOW TO SLEEP can be viewed in full here:-

My first ever encounter with a bona fide poet was when I began learning Robert Burns at primary school around the age 8. TO A MOUSE has always struck a particular chord with me especially the second section “I’m truly sorry man’s dominion Has broken Nature’s social union, An’ justifies that ill opinion, Which makes thee startle”. A couple of years later when faced with the News Daily Diary English exercise, I began writing my own poetry to reflect the news headlines, reckoning if Burns could write about daily life and historical events, then so could I.

Study of poetry in a fuller sense continued at high school and the poem that had the most profound impact on me was DULCE ET DECORUM EST by Wilfred Owen. My beloved Latin was used at the end of this harrowing stark narrative regarding the horrors of the battlefields of World War One. I quote “The old Lie: Dulce Et Decorum Est Pro Patria Mori” and recall distinctly my teacher Mrs Best translating it as “to die for one’s country is a great and noble thing”. Having digested the raw reality within the poem the fairy tale bravado of those sentiments was not lost on me.

The solemnity of war takes me to another poem written during a period of conflict HIGH FLIGHT by John Gillespie Magee Jr. a pilot lost in World War Two. In complete contrast to Wilfred’s poem John’s narrative describes the exhilarating joys of flying, whilst poignantly alluding to the fragile hold on life a war pilot had. Ronald Reagan quoted from it during a moving tribute to the Space Shuttle Challenger crew lost in 1986 “they slipped the surly bonds of Earth, put out their hands and touched the face of God”. Those words were indelibly etched into my brain that day, as the world reeled from the shocking news of the disaster. Such was the impact of those words; I used the same quote for my Mammy’s funeral memorial sheet.

ISAIAH 40: 26 & 28-31 The bible reading I had for my Mammy I felt related in the same way to the euphoric expression within Magee’s poem. My mother had been riddled with rheumatoid arthritis for years before a stroke robbed her of her remaining mobility and speech. When she died I thought of all the pain and frustration she was released from, and believed her faith in God would not be forgotten “calling them all by name, not one is missing…they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not be faint”. The poem quote and this bible passage, for me, mirror the same sentiment and I will forever associate the two together.

The first poetry book I ever bought as a teenager was called Britain in Verse, and contained the most exquisite full page colour plates and beautiful subtle line drawings to accompany the poems. I fell in love with “a host of golden daffodils” in I WANDERED LONELY AS A CLOUD by William Wordsworth and “a robin shrills his lonely tune” from SNOW by Walter de la Mare.

So that’s my seven lifetime poems (including the nursery rhyme) and a bible quote I’ve referenced, in celebration of World Poetry Day. Song lyrics have just as much meaning to, but that’s for another blog.