Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

Writing a new chapter for Adrian

The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole

Highbury Youth Theatre


AT the risk of upsetting roughly half the cast, one of the most striking things about this lively production was the dancing. The girls were good but . . . the boys were better.

While the girls gave us Beyonce and Single Ladies the boys blew them away with their Gangnam Style routine where Oliver Cave, who played Gavin, all Mohican hairstyle and attitude, really did look the business.

With him in the remarkable energetic routine were Alex Mungovan as Keith and Jonathan Talsma-James as the well-spoken Constantine as well as two of the stars of the show, Alex Ball as Barry Kent and Charlie Walter as the Postman bouncing away to the beat.

Ball has that priceless commodity that cannot be taught or learned – timing, which is a pre-requisite of comedy and this show, written by Jack Crosby based on Sue Townsend's books, is unashamedly comedy with the darker aspects of the books, such as Barry being a bullying skinhead, or the break-up of the Mole's marriage, being left for another day.

Instead Barry is the Just William style leader of a gang of misfits, with their ritual walk, serving a community service sentence under George Mole, Adrian's dad, played by Kane Blundell. George had the misfortune to actually look younger than Adrian which gave a novel slant to their relationship.

On the fringe of the dysfunctional Mole family under mum Pauline, played with some style by birthday girl Helen Denning, we had two of the real stars of the show. First there was Queenie, played slowly, a little deafly and with her lines pretty much all she could still remember by Eden Parke, who managed that shuffling fragility of old age which only the old can recognise.


Then there was Josh Higgs who stole the show as ancient old pensioner Bert Baxter.  Like Alex Ball, Higgs has the gift of timing, knowing just when to chuck out a throwaway line for maximum effect. His "They make me pooh" line about Brussells sprouts held until the stage went black and the sketch ended was a classic example.

And he managed to keep up the appearance of a decrepit OAP – limping with the same right leg, struggling to sit down or get up – throughout. It is not easy for youngsters to play old people but this decrepit old pair well deserved the applause when they creaked over for their bows at the end.

Queenie, incidentally, once she had shuffled off her mortal coil, returned, presumably as a ghost, to show a fair bit of dancing skill in the finale.

Back to dancing again and the show even had a couple of solo dances which is brave in any youth production. Julio Graham, one of the school boys, produced a dance full of power and charm after the death of Queenie while an unnamed dancer performed in the background while Pandora, Adrian's heart's desire, played by Natasha Branson, sang Skyfall.  The dancer was surely worth a mention in the programme.

Natasha's Skyfall, incidentally, was the pick of the night's singing, she did it beautifully and there was a nice video backdrop, Adele style with the words appearing and disappearing through the mists.

But Adrian Mole is all about Adrian and Christian Blundell gave us a suitably, intense, humourless, nerdy Mole junior as we followed him through 2012 in his diary when he even detects a little maturity as he looks in the mirror. It is about Adrian and growing up with friend, sort of, Nigel, played by James Wale and Not Nigel, played by James Clewes. The School girls, January, June, April and May, Nigel and Not Nigel had a nice touch of T-shirts with their names on.

The show is episodic rather than a narrative drama, very much a sketch show, strung together with Adrian and his pursuit of Pandora and to a lesser extent drunken George and his lust for good-time girl Doreen Slater, played with a suggestive flounce and revealing top by Grace Bentley. Another constant is the postman - cue Postman Pat music - who pops up whenever a message - or male stripper (don't ask) - is needed.

As with any sketch show the result can be a bit of a curate's egg, some sketches were clever, some funny, some were made funny by the people in them while some were . . . less successful.


Niko Adilypour, who gave us the world's worst magician, also give us Andrew Mitchell MP and ex-chief whip, and a whole new explanation for Plebgate while Ian Rowe as teacher Mr Scrotum gave us a new look on the Nativity.

Less successful was the Neil Armstrong sketch which, considering the astronaut died last August, could be seen to be bordering on bad taste and I could not work out why Charlie Walter's Postman and the cleaner, played by Sarah Cotter burst into a Broadway style New York, New York, all canes and sparkly bowlers, because they had missed out on a school trip to London. Nice song, nicely done . . . but why?

But with sketch shows there is always another one along in a minute. So the overall result was a fast moving show, directed by Jane Mason, with scenes linked - and scene changes hidden - by Adrian sitting on his bed at the side of the stage, making entries in his diary while the cast, and indeed audience, seemed to be enjoying every minute.

The wonderful larger then life Ian Sandy, who died last month, had a simple philosophy about youth theatre, and indeed theatre in general.

The Birmingham director, actor and producer founded the BSS Showbiz performing arts school for youngsters which runs on Saturday mornings at Birmingham Hippodrome and although he saw drama and performing as a serious business, above all, his view was that youth theatre had to be open to all and most important, it had to be fun..

He would have been delighted with this performance from a group of enthusiastic youngsters. It was fun from beginning to end.

Roger Clarke

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