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!