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

Adolescent angst, lust and laughs

Three's a crowd in this rehearsal picture: Adrian Mole (Alex Powell) left, and Nigel (Matt Preece) with the centre of their lustful interest, Pandora (Charlotte Moseley)

The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole aged 13¾ - The Play

The Nonentities

The Rose Theatre, Kidderminster


FOR readers of the Sue Townsend books this is probably a delight with our . . . sort of hero, well at least main character, brought to life in his half mast trousers, 80's turtle neck sweater with its TV test card pattern and a family which makes merely dysfunctional look normal.

If you have never read the books, or even heard of Adrian Mole, then you are still in for a treat with a very funny musical set in the Midlands, complete with Black(ish) Country accents, which gallops along at a fair old pace.

Ignorance of the Adrian books is no disadvantage with a play about growing up that stands on its own merits with the odd hint of sadness and despair amid the laughs - and even moments we can all, secretly, identify with.

Key to the whole thing is Adrian, the teenager with a spot on his chin, a mother who thinks fidelity is a manufacturer of record players, and a crush on Pandora who he loves because of her personal integrity . . . both of them.

Get him wrong and you can have Olivier, Gielgud, Dame Judi Dench and the very best the RSC, directed by Sir Peter Hall, can offer filling the other parts and it will still be a train crash – so a hefty pat on the back for 18-year old Alex Powell who brings Adrian very much to what is a rather dull life. He is superb. It is a huge part, hardly ever off stage, and he never put a foot wrong even refusing to be thrown when a second half sound effect came in too early. His duet in bed with the dog is priceless.

Adrian is a gawky, awkward slightly whiny, adolescent who confuses his lack of street cred, or indeed any sort of cred, and his ability to write excruciatingly bad poetry as a sign that he must be an intellectual.

His friend, or the nearest he gets to a friend, is Nigel, played with suitable uneasy arrogance by Matt Preece, who we are told is the offspring of a maniac and a midget and who sees himself as some sort of distant (very) relative of The Fonz.

Mother Pauline is not what you would call maternal, or indeed faithful, especially as she works her way through Germaine Greer's 1970's bra burners' bible for liberated women, The Female Eunuch.

Happy(ish) families: a rehearsal picture of Pauline Mole (Marika Farr), Grandma, (Hilary Thompson), Adrian and George Mole (Bob Graham)

Her confusing mix of seduction, being seduced, attempts at assertion and search for fulfilment is created beautifully by Marika Farr who apparently was suffering from the effects of laryngitis on the opening night so Tori Wakeman, from props, sang her songs off-stage with Marika miming. I mention it only because I suspect not a soul in the audience would have had a clue, it was that well done.

Adrian's dad George, played confidently by Bob Graham, is not exactly a sex god. If he ever had it, he let it go a long time ago. He is devastated when Pauline ups and leaves him for the next door lothario Derek Lucas, played with sickly, smarmy charm by Alan Minaker.

In fact he is devastated enough to get Doreen Slater around. Doreen played vivaciously by Alex Hyde, is a women with a certain reputation for having morals which, if not exactly loose, are certainly slack, and, with her apparent hobby of collecting married men, is happy to share both George's marriage and his bed.

Keeping order is Hilary Thompson as the battle-axe Mole grandma while escaping is Mrs Lucas, Derek's ex, who finds love with  . . . another woman.

“Funny, you don't expect that sort of thing in a cul-de-sac,” is Pauline's liberated view of lesbianism.

And through it all, shining through the domestic gloom like a beacon of lust, is Pandora, played by Charlotte Moseley who was 17 last week. Surprisingly for such a confident performance it was her first time on stage and I suspect no one in the audience would have guessed that either. On this showing it would be a waste if she did not become a regular.

There was good support from Alan Dzumaga as the local bully Barry Kent, Nick Haynes as the smelly, cantankerous, communist pensioner Bert and Lynn Ravenhill as the randy resident at his care home.

Love in a cul-de-sac with Pauline Mole and her neighbourly admirer Derek Lucas (Alan Minaker)

A mention too for the costumes which give a convincing 80s feel along with the glorious set, a sort of two-up, two-down constructed in a Filofax.

No one is down in the programme for its design, but they should be, and the programme thanks Keith, Mike, Kieran Reeves, David Goddard for building the thing and they did a cracking job.

The four rooms – and a toilet – along with Bert's  roll-in, roll-out OAP flat – allows director Richard Taylor to keep the action going non-stop. The pace does drop a tad at times in the second half but that should resolve itself as the week goes on.

Well done incidentally to prompt Vilma Watson who was on the ball on the couple of occasions when opening night lines were missed. No point trying to hide forgotten lines with inaudible whispers leaving actors floundering and straining to hear. She was in quickly and clearly to make sure things were under way again . . . promptly.

Adrian and the excellent cast will be will be recounting his thoughts full of throwaway lines, nice touches and genuine belly laughs until 17-09-11.

Roger Clarke

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