The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 3/4

Mar 5 2024 | By More

24 Hour Musical Challenge: Impressive

Portobello Town Hall: Sat 2 March
Review by Thom Dibdin

The Musselburgh Amateur Musical Association made a strong and entertaining go of their 24 hour Musical Challenge – to learn, rehearse and perform a musical all in 24 hours, staging the final result on Saturday night at the Portobello Town Hall.

When the cast opened their envelopes to learn the show would be The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole aged 13 ¾, and which roles each would be playing, the news was greeted with hoots of delighted laughter. There must be several in the company who, like many others, didn’t even know that Sue Townsend’s smash hit book had even been made into a musical.

The cast of The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 3/4. Pic: Thom Dibdin.

The musical, with a book and lyrics by Jake Brunger and music and lyrics by Pippa Cleary, who had been working with Townsend on the show before her death in 2014, was first staged in 2015 and had a short but honourable run in the West End in 2019.

Without bothering the award panels in musical terms but still providing a good number of strong numbers, Brunger and Cleary succeed in bringing a year in the life of gawky teenager Adrain Mole to the stage.

That year is 1981 and while the miner’s strike, Thatcher and the marriage of Charles and Diana hover in the background, Adrian is more concerned with his spots, Pandora the gorgeous new girl in school, his parents marriage (the reality of which he is gauchely unaware), and school bully Barry Kent.

chance to shine

Speaking to director Caroline Inglis before the show, she said one of the reasons for choosing this musical was to give the company’s youth members a chance to shine, particularly as MAMA approaches its 75th anniversary.

And golly gosh does this show give its youth performers that chance! Inglis was in the happy position to have the quality of performers to make age-appropriate casting decisions for the three young lead roles.

Nathan Fisher (Adrian), Kian Gillon (Nigel) and Kendra Laird (Pandora) with the Adrian Mole company. Pic Claire Riddoch

Nathan Fisher (aged 14 and 1/6) took on the central role of Adrian Mole and was positively luminescent, giving a bona fide five star performance. So too was Kendra Laird, who is a similar age, as Pandora. Kian Gillon gave it great support as Adrian’s best pal Nigel.

Fisher, who was on stage for nearly all the production, quite understandably still performed script-in-hand, for what is a very word-heavy show. However there was no need for him to refer to it during his (many) musical numbers, often when he was leading the company. Nor did it hold him back from creating a fully rounded character.

Laird, who has a lot less stage time but who is very prominent as Pandora, was impressively off book and made great use of her impressive vocal ability. She, Fisher and Gillon created a strong young triangle, with Pandora first falling for Nigel but then being impressed by Adrian’s self-promoted “intellect” and poetry. The trio made this whole element of the show flow quite naturally.


Adrian’s parents were also given strong and rounded performances. Rachel Allison as mother Pauline and Euan Dickson as father George clearly portrayed a marriage in crisis. The irony being that Adrian is not initially able to see it. Allison, in particular, built a strong relationship with Fisher and their numbers together worked particularly well.

It’s a piece with plenty of extraneous performers and wee sub-plots. Perhaps too many for the critically minded, but providing many smaller roles for the 27 other members of the cast on stage.

Ross Fisher (Bert Baxter) and Nathan Fisher. Pic: Claire Riddoch.

At home, Alan Paterson provided the necessary sleaze as neighbour Mr Lucas who whisks Pauline away to Sheffield, Eilidh Albert-Recht was particularly lascivious as the floozy Doreen Slater who momentarily takes Pauline’s place and Angela Morrison had a particularly daunting stage presence as Grandma Mole. Not to forget the Mole’s dog, a life-size puppet operated with the necessary potentially embarrassing investigations by Becky Duncan-Skelton.

Then there is Bert Baxter, the cantankerous old neighbour who Adrian visits in the hope of being a Good Samaritan. Ross Fisher brought all the necessary curmudgeonly antagonism to the role, whether delighting in waving his communist flag at the Royal Wedding street party or dispensing advice to Adrian.


The school scenes, like the opening and closing New Year party scenes, provide plenty of scope for the company to come forward in terms of acting, choreography and, in particular, the musical numbers.

These were largely led by Laura Murray who ensured that Geography teacher Miss Elf, had depth to her. On Adrian’s side (mostly) and as equally in thrall of Mitch Gobsill as the authoritarian head teacher, Mr Scruton, and also terrorised by James MacDonald as bully boy Barry Kent.

Nathan Fisher and Kian Gillon with the Laura Murray (Miss Elf) and members of the Adrian Mole company. Pic: Claire Riddoch.

The ensemble more than held their own with the piece. Yes, many of the performers who had a lot less to do than Nathan Fisher were still script-in-hand, but you got the impression that for a good number it was more for safety than actually needing to refer to it.

Claire Riddoch’s choreography was, understandably, on the basic side. But as this is more of a song than a dance piece of musical theatre it didn’t matter much. Indeed, it actively helped give an extra edge of reality to the characterisations.


The band in the pit, under Assistant MD Maddy Baron, gave able support. A bit too much at times, with the balance too often favouring the musicians so they drowned out the performers on stage, whether in the spoken sections or in the singing. However, getting the sound right in Portobello Town Hall is a tricky process and this is one area which would probably have benefitted from more time to get it right.

Otherwise, this was a thoroughly entertaining production, with strong and interesting characterisations all round. It really gave a taste of what MAMA can do when asked. And surely the company is now thinking of a fully staged production, rehearsed over a slightly less intimidating time frame…

Running time: Two hours and 35 minutes.
Portobello Town Hall, 147-149 Portobello High St, Portobello EH15 1AF.
Sat 2 March 2024.
One show: 7.30pm.
Run ended.

A scene from The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 3/4. Pic: Claire Riddoch.

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