Writer: Charles Webb
Stage Adaptation: Terry Johnson
Director: Lucy Bailey
Reviewer: Barbara Michaels
The sexual mores of the Sixties are the background for The Graduate. Laughable as they may seem in some respects to the youth of today, seen against the sexual culture of the time they have their place in social history. Despite this, it is almost impossible to view a production of this play without thinking back to the iconic 1967 screenplay starring Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft.
Now, half a century later, Terry Johnson’s production, directed by Lucy Bailey, brings to the table a portrayal that focuses not only on both the materialistic and social aspects of life in America in the mid-Sixties but on family relationships. Benjamin Braddock (Jack Monaghan) has just finished college. Back home with his parents, the career mapped out for him by his businessman father is anathema to him. As he asks himself: “What do I want to do with my life?” he catches the eye of an attractive older woman, Mrs Robinson (Catherine McCormack), who takes a fancy to him and sets out to seduce him.
A steamy bedroom scene follows. In the wrong hands, this could be both tacky and cringe-making; all credit to McCormack for managing to make it neither of these. A skilled actress (clever casting by Casting Director Joyce Nettles) McCormack brings to the role both panache and an evident relish, with a sure touch that treads a fine line between comedy and satire. Laughable at times, yes, but also ensuring that we want to know more about Mrs Robinson – why is she doing this? Okay, she’s had a few drinks – but there must be more to it than that. As the often irritating Benjamin – always his full name, never Ben, to Mrs R – Monaghan squares up to the challenges the role presents, giving us a lovable and believable character: a young man, fresh out of college, who, despite graduating with a first and what his parents see as a golden future before him, hasn’t the faintest idea what he wants to do with his life.
Playing Benjamin’s parents – tellingly, we never know their first names – Johnson’s adaptation highlights their bewilderment as their plans for their son destruct, and delves deeper into the parental relationship, extending into the relationship between the two of them. Some great cameo touches from Rebecca Charles and Tom Hodgkins here as respectively Mrs and Mr Braddock. While we are on the subject of parents – how does Mr Robinson (Richard Clothier) react when he finds out that his wife has, not to put too fine a point on it, been jumping into bed with the son of his best friends? Clothier’s portrayal of Robinson’s anger is realistic but doesn’t have quite sufficient emotional that the role requires.
There is more, much more, on the family front, in the shape of daughter Elaine (Emma Curtis) – but mustn’t be a spoiler. You will have to find out for yourselves.
Designer Mike Britton’s use of video footage, in the hands of Ian William Galloway, is clever and contributes much to the overall success of this West Yorkshire Playhouse production, but could be scaled down as it becomes over-dominant at times. As for the music – a soundtrack of memorable Simon and Garfunkel Sixties songs ticks all the boxes.
Runs until Saturday 24 June 2017 | Image: Contributed