The early 1980s.
Telephones were attached to the wall by lines; an international call meant going through the operator – and was very, very expensive; a television remote control meant getting your child to walk over to the set to change the channel; the Intercity-125 was the epitome of modern train travel; Torville and Dean ice skated to victory; Sheffield was famous for its cutlery; children sat O-levels and CSEs – and organised protests to complain about school rules that they didn’t like; people who were out of work were “on the dole” and claimed “social security”; the Nine O’Clock News was the mainstay of the evening’s television schedule; punks had safety pin piercings; we listened to Madness, Culture Club and Wham on our Sony Walkmans – some of which had graphic equalisers (which made absolutely no different to the sound, as I recall); and Adrian Mole hit the bookstands.
All this – and particularly the last – was expertly woven into a wonderful entertainment at Thornden School’s production of Sue Townsend’s The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13¾ last week. You probably had to be over 35 to recognise many of the references, but the cast managed to present them without any hint of bemusement as to why the audience found them so funny.
The opening scene was set at midnight on New Year’s Eve, but the entertainment started as we entered the auditorium. The New Year’s Eve party was in full swing on the stage, and Adrian was handing out nibbles to the audience – “they’re from Sainsbury’s”.
The theatre programme complemented the theme of the play. It was designed to look like a school exercise book. And inside, the style of the play’s title was continued by showing both the name and age of the contributors to the “cast comments” section.
Adrian Mole, of course, lived in Leicester, and the cast adopted plausible East Midlands accents (my parents live there – I know an East Midlands accent when I hear one). It wasn’t until the actor who played Adrian thanked the off-stage crew at the end that I realised that this wasn’t his normal accent.
The play was staged on a single set, but action expertly moved around the stage and made clever use of props to illustrate whether we were in the Mole’s front room, outside the Lucas’s front door, or at Bert Baxter’s house. Sometimes the actors on set would freeze in pose while the focus moved to another part of the stage – it takes great skill to remain motionless for so long. The movement of the sofa from one side of the stage to the other represented both the change of location from Leicester to Sheffield, and the train by which we got there.
As well as the expertly delivered dialogue and precision timing of the lines, there were some wonderful side performances.
I loved the way the two younger actors mimed the descriptions Mrs Lucas gave as to how she would like to get rid of Mr Lucas. There was a expertly sung “aria” from Doreen Slater – accompanied by a guitarist who seamlessly appeared on stage, and just as seamlessly retired to the wings. The fight between George Mole and Mr Lucas was brilliantly choreographed. But for me, the piece de resistance was a hilarious pastiche of Torville and Dean in which Adrian and Pandora led Bert Baxter and Queenie in a wheelchair-bound dance to the tune of Bolero.
Parody is difficult to pull off. Get it wrong and it taints the whole play. Get it right and the audience are still talking about it long after the final curtain. Thornden pupils got it very, very right.
This performance was part of the GCSE course work. From what I saw, all involved – both on and off stage – deserve to get very good results in the exam. And I’m looking forward to next year’s production.
- Review: Fawlty Towers By Chameleon Theatre Company
- Comedy Review: Worth A Fortune By MDG Players
- Review: The Phantom Of The Opera By Centrestage Production Youth Theatre
- Review: The Wizard Of Oz By The Chameleons
- Comedy Review: Ladies Of Iniquity By MDG Players
- Review: Jeeves And Wooster In Perfect Nonsense At The Mayflower Theatre
- Theatre Review: The Ladykillers By Chameleon Theatre Company
- Review: Ladies Down Under By The Chameleons