Is it strange to say that the new musical of Leicester author Sue Townsend’s bestselling 1980s book The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13¾ doesn’t have enough Adrian Mole in it? Luke Sheppard’s in-house production at the Curve has a stage framed with extracts and a backdrop from Adrian’s diary. The main backdrop of 1980s housing even has a quirky pen and pencil chimney design in a slick reference to Adrian’s iconic diary. Our hero is even played by one of four 13 year old boys (Sebastian Croft at the performance I saw). But there’s a remarkable lack of focus on the main character.

What the novel does so beautifully, of course, is to tell Adrian’s (sometimes ridiculous, often tortured, frequently hilarious) story from his own point of view. Such is the nature of the form of the diary and Townsend’s first-person narrative. It’s the moments when Adrian narrates the show direct to the audience or is the focus of the action on stage that are most memorable and have the best one-liners in the musical.

There’s much to enjoy in the day-by-day moments of Adrian’s existence, from the disaster of a spot on his chin to writing a letter to the BBC, yet alone falling in love with the girl of his dreams, Pandora (a suitably precocious ‘jolly hockey sticks’ Lulu-Mae Pears). However, in transferring it onto the musical theatre stage, Jake Brunger (book and lyrics) and Pippa Clearly (music and lyrics) have allowed their attention to drift to the break-up of Adrian’s parents’ marriage and his mother’s affair. While Neil Ditt’s ‘dinner at home’ husband George Mole relies on his homemaker wife Pauline (Kirsty Hoiles, doing a great line in 1980s hair and fashion), she enjoys an affair with neighbour Mr Lucas (Cameron Blakely). Rosemary Ashe’s tough-as-old-boots Grandma even gets a song, ‘How Could You?’ to let rip against her daughter-in-law. But in these moments the narrative lacks the focus that Adrian’s central character provides. Adrian is pivotal to this show and should be used to narrate the whole evening – either by jumping in and out of the action on stage or via a recording of his voice and thoughts at pivotal moments. More could be made of the actual ‘diary device’ too.

Maybe then this new musical could reach its full potential and be grittier – at the moment, the adults’ story is largely played for laughs rather than drama. The hard-working ten-strong cast double and triple up on other roles, with adults playing children and vice versa – a bigger cast and budget would allow for better pacing and set changes. There are some interesting themes here – the social situation and unemployment have echoes of Blood Brothers or Billy Elliot, and it is a touching moment when the estranged parents get back together – but the central character’s feeling of not belonging is not pushed far enough. Musically, the opening sequence ‘Another Year’ sets the scene well and Amy Booth-Steel gets a hilarious perky number as Dad’s new girlfriend Doreen Slater in ‘New Best Friend’, but other tunes aren’t as catchy. Scenes featuring more ‘fantasy’ or pastiche elements in a hospital and nativity needed more focus too. Maybe the pedigree of Townsend’s original story – reprinted as part of the programme – sets the stakes too high. All the characters we know and love from the book are on stage and the show does bring back some fond memories from the dim-and-distant past for those of us of a similar age to’s just that he’s not enough of a dramatic focus in this version.