The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13¾ - The Musical - London

Move over Cats, it's time for a mole!

Andrew Langtree on How the New West End Musical The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾ Brings Up Cringeworthy Memories

Andrew Langtree on How the New West End Musical The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾ Brings Up Cringeworthy Memories
Andrew Langtree, Lara Denning and Aaron Gelkoff in "The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾"
(Photo: Pamela Raith)

Andrew Langtree has appeared in the world premiere productions of the musicals Mamma Mia!, Ghost and Groundhog Day, receiving a 2017 Olivier nomination for his performance as Ned Ryerson in the last-named musical, and has done many a straight play, as well. But the Englishman can now be found at the Ambassadors Theatre in the newly opened West End premiere of the 2015 musical The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾, playing the father of the budding if acne-plagued intellectual of the title. Broadway.com caught the engaging Langtree one recent afternoon to discuss takeovers, famous co-stars and his once-rebellious haircut.

What is it like coming into a contemporary musical that has had two previous runs—in 2015 in the Midlands city of Leicester, where the show is set, and then at the Menier Chocolate Factory two years later?
I had heard great things about it so was just really pleased to get the call. It’s about time we had something like this in the West End that tells such a beautiful and heartwarming story—and is a new British musical, too!

Did you know the popular Sue Townsend series of books on which the director Luke Sheppard’s production is based?
I was more familiar with the TV series [which aired in 1985]. I remember as a kid sitting with my father as he laughed his head off at the character of Bert—the cantankerous old guy who hates everything. I was kind of shocked at how naughty and irreverent it was: people were allowed to say these rude and shocking things about the government and Margaret Thatcher.

How is it as an adult to be playing Adrian Mole’s father, George?
The challenge for me is really about pinpointing George’s emotional journey and being true to that. At the start of the show, you’ve got this guy who doesn’t understand the changing world around him and is terrified of Germaine Greer and The Female Eunuch and wants the world to stand still.

Andrew Langtree as George & Albert Green as Nigel in The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾ (Photo: Pamela Raith)

Can I assume that he doesn’t succeed?
[Laughs] What happens is that his wife falls for the next-door neighbor, Mr. Lucas, who is beautifully played by John Hopkins, and suddenly George has to readdress where he fits in not just with society but with his family. He has to support his son to whom he’s never paid much attention and by the end of the year George is a changed man.

Did you see onetime Shrek star Dean Chisnall in the role?
I didn’t because I was in shows at the time, but Dean’s are big shoes to fill. George is a very satisfying part to play. He’s a bit of an ignoramus at the beginning, but by the end, you see him start to learn where he fits in and to take responsibility.

Is it unusual for you to be taking over a role?
Yes. I’ve tended always to be interested in the creative process of originating a character and bringing something to life. At the same time, it’s lovely to bring a character to a wider audience on the West End.

Is it true that you sort of sidled into musicals?
The honest answer is that I graduated from the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts (LIPA) having spent three years studying Shakespeare and working on classical and challenging texts. Then, having suddenly graduated, I found myself being sent up mainly for musical theater for reasons to do with the agent I was with at the time.

Did that career shift surprise you?
I’m from a working-class background so felt that I had to take the work available to me and, much to my surprise, found myself accepting musicals when I started. I’ve since discovered that musicals are the hardest work you will ever do in terms of the energy required and having to look after your body and voice. The challenge for me has been to try and envelop as many different styles [of theater] in my career as I can: that’s what I enjoy. I love being in Stratford-upon-Avon doing Troilus and Cressida as much as I love doing Adrian Mole.

Do you keep tabs on some of your celebrated American co-stars—Caissie Levy, for instance, with whom you appeared in the West End’s Ghost the Musical?
Certainly not via social media: I’m probably the worst person for people to try and follow. I know that’s the way the industry is going, but I’m old-fashioned. What I really love is when I catch up with these people face to face. I know if I were to see Caissie tomorrow, we would have a good old laugh; it’s always lovely to see her.

What are your memories of working with another Broadway name, Olivier Award winner Andy Karl, when Groundhog Day was first done at the Old Vic?
Do you know, Andy’s just fabulous! He turned up with this real Broadway energy, which I had never experienced and was really kind of crazy. He loved putting on a mock British accent and saying “fish and chips, mate” because that’s what we had introduced him to, and let me tell you, his work ethic was phenomenal! He would be there all day, every day. The guy’s made of steel.

Do these various American roles pose a challenge to you, as someone from south Lancashire in the northwest of England?
It’s actually more difficult doing the regional English accent needed for Adrian Mole. George is from Leicester, which is a whole different set of rules vocally than where I come from further north. The thing with playing American is that we’re so steeped in America and get so much American culture with Netflix and the like, whereas you barely meet anyone from Leicester unless you’re in Leicester!

Has this show brought back memories of yourself at 13 ¾, embarked much like Adrian upon the terrors and joys of adolescence?
This is bringing a lot of it back! We have a wonderful child cast and it’s amazing just seeing them at that age in the room every day and the Adrians going through in character what they’re probably going through in real life. You start to remember the school discos and the awkwardness of it all, and I still cringe from time to time and burst out laughing.

How do you handle the classroom scenes that require you and several of the other adult actors to play budding teenagers yourselves?
I’m playing a kid who is very much based on Andrew Langtree and literally has no idea what’s going on in geography and is busy peering at everyone else. This is all from Adrian’s imagination in that every time he mentions something, we’re into a new scene. The show is like a runaway horse: you get on the back and just go.

Did you have Adrian’s signature bespectacled look when you were that age?
I did look like Adrian with little round glasses and a central parting [of hair]. It was a big day when I moved my parting from the side to the center in about 1989. I was pretty geeky, so that was about the biggest, most rebellious thing I could have done.