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Review: Dear Diary (Courtyard Theatre)

Review by Sophie Wilby


Following a workshop performance in 2023, Dear Diary is back in London at The Courtyard Theatre with an ambitious new script. 

Billed as “a thriller musical”, Dear Diary evokes a feeling of ‘Heathers’ meets ‘13 Reasons Why’. The murder-mystery genre is notoriously difficult, though often attempted (ITV and BBC wouldn’t survive without it). In Dear Diary, talented drama student Kirsty (Abigail Hebdon) is murdered during a blackout leaving her four frenemies - ‘bad boy’ Danny (Ryan J Edwards) and his jealous girlfriend Fiona (Chloe Smiter Easton), studious Isabela (Sofia Andolcetti) and deeply religious, love-struck Stefanos (Adonis Kat) - as the main suspects. The story unfolds through a series of diary entries, shown through flashbacks and dramatic solos, which slowly reveal a friendship group littered with complications from professional jealousy to romantic jealousy. 

There is a loose suggestion of an investigator, performed as a voiceover by co-producer and co-director Samantha May, although the illusion of this was dampened slightly by her visible presence in the front row, reading from a clipboard. This, however, serves to reinforce that the investigation is not at the heart of this production - our four suspects already know the truth amongst themselves. This creates an interesting dynamic between them, as their group scenes are centred on how to avoid punishment - each seemingly battling between loyalty to their friends and their desire for self-preservation, thus each simultaneously trusting and distrusting one another. 

Writer, director, and actor Kat grapples with this tricky genre well and though there are plot points that perhaps need sharpening up to feel more realistic, it is to be expected of a show still in development. The characterisation of our five characters could similarly be sharpened up as more backstory is needed to help the audience connect with them and their potential motives for murder - although admittedly, this is difficult to do in a 100-minute run time. Where the backstory to our cast is introduced, it is certainly complex and in some instances, was not done justice within the time frame. This led to certain developments in characters' behaviours and actions feeling abrupt and somewhat random. However at its core these are strong characters with the potential to become very believable suspects. 

It is clear that there are strong vocalists in the cast, particularly when brought together in a melodic harmony. However, often Hebdon, Smiter Easton, and Andolcetti were difficult to hear which was a real shame as when you were able to hear them clearly, it was evident that they were skilled vocalists. Kat and Edwards delivered powerful vocals that were better balanced against the music, making them easier to hear and understand. Edwards in particular stood out as a strong performer - both in terms of his musical and acting ability. Extra kudos to him for his brief rendition of perhaps the most famous song from Bonnie and Clyde showing him to be as strong a vocalist as Jordan Luke Gage in his performance as Clyde. And of course, kudos too to Kat for providing this, and other, nods to musical theatre in keeping with the setting of the story and leaving a smile on the faces of an audience familiar with these much-loved tunes. 

The performances of certain cast members were unfortunately hindered by the issues of unbalanced sound, which also impacted the characterisation discussed above as it was difficult to hear dialogue at times even though I sat close to the front. In terms of performance, praise has also to be given to Hebdon whose delivery of quippy comedic one-liners helped to undercut the tension running throughout the show. It is somewhat of a shame that much of her time is spent reading from a diary as she descends the stairs of the auditorium. Whilst this does create an almost ominous ‘Woman in Black’ presence, it does mean that her skill as an actress is not easily witnessed by the audience. 

Similarly, these issues with sound levels did make the lyrics hard to understand at times, which again, was a real shame as when you were able to hear them fully, it was clear that the music composition of Dylan Owen and Matthew May was strong. “Forbidden Love” for example, was a very sweet and moving song and the blend of pop with more classic, musical ballads was an interesting dynamic. The musical direction was mostly complimented by the lightning direction of Simone Vastola, although it could be said that reducing the strobe lighting and focusing on lighting that enhances the mood and directs the audience's attention more subtly might be more effective. Similarly, the attempt to incorporate audience participation through the use of phone torches was keenly welcomed, but fell a little flat, causing some confusion amongst the crowd which detracted the audience’s attention. 

Understandably from a production at this stage, there were instances of missed sound cues and stumbled lines. Mostly, however, this did not detract from the overall storytelling and the cast handled any issues well. Juan Alcaide Gonzalez’s set design was effective, though it presented minor issues when it came to moving larger pieces around the stage. Though similarly handled well by the cast, it did create some not-insignificant delays in the action which impacted the pacing of the story, which is particularly critical to the thriller genre. 

In his writer's notes, Adonis writes that “there will still be changes to be discovered after this run” and even suggests that he is “pretty sure that the end still hasn’t been written”. This show is at an exciting point in its development - it is clear that the potential for a solid new musical is there. With the clear talent, passion, and energy of the creative team, I do not doubt that it will continue to grow and improve, ready to shine on the Edinburgh stage in 2025. 

Dear Diary plays at the Courtyard Theatre until April 13th

For tickets and information visit



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