Writer: Terry Johnson adapted from the novel by Charles Webb and the screenplay by Calder Willingham and Buck Henry
Director: Lucy Bailey
Reviewer: Laura Jayne Bateman
Originally a novel by Charles Webb, published in 1963, The Graduate is perhaps best known as the 1967 film starring Anne Bancroft and Dustin Hoffman. Curve’s co-production with West Yorkshire Playhouse follows the trend of reimagining popular films for the stage, but this is a fresh and unexpectedly resonant production in its own right.
Based on Webb’s own life, the play follows twenty-year-old Benjamin Braddock, recently graduated from college and with his pick of scholarships to Harvard, Yale, and Columbia for further study. At his graduation party, he is propositioned by his parents’ friend, the glamorous, alcoholic Mrs Robinson, with whom he begins an affair. Benjamin’s loyalty to his parents and to his privileged upbringing is put to the test, and the play charts his growing disillusionment with the artificiality of wealthy California living.
Terry Johnson has created a neat and coherent adaptation, combining elements of Webb’s novel with the screenplay by Calder Willingham and Buck Henry. It is a gently comic, often touching piece, with flashes of pathos among moments of high drama. Although the first half is perhaps ten minutes too long – the final two scenes before the interval could be cut entirely – Lucy Bailey’s direction is sharp and detailed. There are some ingenious set pieces, such as Benjamin’s clumsy attempt to book a hotel room for an assignation, and an axe attack choreographed superbly by Renny Krupinski.
The 8-strong cast excels in a variety of roles. Rebecca Charles gives a charming comic performance as Mrs Braddock, never slipping into caricature, and Tom Hodgkins as Mr Braddock subtly conveys a father out-of-touch with a new generation; the moment he strikes his son across the face is as much out of desperation as anger, and all the more shocking for it. Emma Curtis, despite a monotonous vocal delivery, is a decent foil for her mother in what is a rather obliquely-written role, While Catherine McCormack is intensely affecting as Mrs Robinson herself, with superb command of the stage. Jack Monaghan, leading the cast as Benjamin, is outstanding. He charts Benjamin’s transformation from naïve, deferential student to world-weary man of convictions with immense skill, keeping the audience with him for every step of the narrative.
Mike Britton’s designs are sleek and efficient, contrasting the glamour of California living with the beige monotony of Benjamin’s bedroom. Lighting designer Chris Davey does excellent work at conjuring a variety of locations, from elevator to church wedding, and the combined work of sound designer Mic Pool and video designer Ian William Galloway viscerally communicates Benjamin’s sense of isolation from the world around him.
It is to this production’s credit that the 1960s setting only seems to enhance, rather than diminish, the timeliness of The Graduate. At a time when scores of young people are completing university, uncertain of whether their degrees will mean anything at all in the current market, Benjamin’s struggles seem intensely pertinent. With strong performances, sensitive direction, and inventive designs, Curve and West Yorkshire Playhouse have reinvented this well-loved story for a new audience.
Runs until 10 June 2017 | Image: Manuel Harlan