Niche was invited to watch the musical's dress rehearsal ahead of opening night.
It's been three years since Leicester Amateur Operatic Society (LAOS) brought a show to a Leicester stage - their first post-pandemic offering has a local connection.
Sue Townsend's novel is charmingly adapted into this Leicester-set musical, centred around the musings of self-described-intellectual teenager, Adrian Mole. Taking place in one year of Adrian's life - as described in his diary entries - it explores first crushes, parents divorcing, dealing with bullies, and the perils of teenage life.
Like the novel, the musical's origins are Leicester-based, debuting at Curve in 2015, with music and lyrics by Pippa Cleary and Jake Brunger. Following a West-End run in 2019, this amateur production is directed for LAOS by Joshua J Knott.
Having been invited to the dress rehearsal, there were a few teething problems with sound and lighting that will have been addressed by opening night, so it's easy to overlook these issues to focus on the performances actually being delivered on stage.
Like Billy Elliot, Matilda, and Oliver! before it, Adrian Mole's central question boils down to: can you find a young actor capable of carrying the show? In Zach Ball, the answer is yes. The son of Siobhan Ball - who starred in Calendar Girls at The Little Theatre earlier this year - show business clearly runs in the family blood.
Ball delivers a very mature performance (ironically), with an impressive vocal range capable of tackling the show's toughest numbers. His characterisation is also solid, giving Adrian a nuanced balance between over-confidence and awkward shyness.
Olivia King also brings her talent to the role of Pandora - the girl of Adrian's affection. With a couple of big songs to carry, King never looks out of her depth, with lovely characterisation of skipping on and off-stage - suggesting a more care-free approach to life in contrast with Adrian's handwringing.
Amongst the adult cast, Nick Cox and Sarah Barton carry the emotional weight as Adrian's soon-to-divorce parents. Both have established their vocal credentials in last year's Made in Dagenham and neither disappoints here. Barton's duet of "How Could You?" with Charlotte Beaver's Grandma is a beautiful, haunting performance about differing perspectives of the burden of motherhood.
Barton's portrayal of Pauline - a mother who yearns for a more meaningful life - feels real and grounded, to the extent that even her more selfish choices seem justified.
Cox's portrayal of George - a dad who's life falls apart as he finds a way to keep going - comes with an emotional fragility that pierces through the character's expectation of what his own life should be like.
There are two show-stealing turns: Martin Bell delivers a lovely comic performance as Bert, an elderly neighbour that Adrian is assigned to support by the Good Samaritans.
Charlotte Brown delivers a powerhouse performance as "Dirty Doreen" Slater, invading Adrian's life and home after beginning to "date" his father - her rendition of "New Best Friend" is unlike anything else in the show, requiring huge energy and vocal power to make it look so effortless.
Both are smaller roles, but each leave a lasting impression on the show.
The staging is simple, but effective - mainly making use of three doors and a raised rostrum - allowing space for a brilliant ensemble of all-aged actors. The choreography and synchronisation of these performers elevate each number in which they appear, supporting the main action and adding tonnes of their own value.
And the music is undeniably catchy. "Misunderstood" is the song you're most likely to leave the theatre humming to yourself. "Take a Stand" and "The Nativity" are also fun, memorable numbers - musical director Steven Duguid has put together a wonderful arrangement with both singers and musicians alike.
An upbeat yet heartfelt musical, The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole (Aged 13¾) is fun for the whole family. It will be playing at The Little Theatre, September 20-24 - tickets available from the theatre box office.