The Graduate –adapted for the stage by Terry Johnson – Paper Lantern Theatre Company – Sir John Mills Theatre until October 15th
The Graduate is an iconic film that in some ways summed up the 60’s with Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft exploring the promiscuous undertone that exploded the decade and heralded the hippy era and the summer of love. But this particular story of a young man seduced by an older woman, although as old as time, has too a cruel streak and rather heartless centre – as far from bringing love and affection into either of their lives – newly graduated Ben Braddock and bored housewife Mrs Robinson remain detached and awkwardly at odds with each other while retaining the basic selfishness that underpins each of their characters. For Ben – it is only when he discovers love with the daughter Elaine that he begins to see a point of his life – but is his pursuit of her just another selfish act – doggedly grasping for what is denied in spite of the fact he might ruin everybody’s life in the process – or is she truly his only salvation?
The stage version fills in the back stories a little more – and gives us a chance to see the crucible in which both main characters were formed – although I’m not sure we like either of them any better for it.
But this is not an easy play to stage for an amateur company – calling as it does for the leads to be a lot of the time in their underwear in the first half – and calling for an effective chemistry that makes the seduction believable without being cringworthy.
Tom Mayhew as Ben looks the part – and has just the right level of difference, innocence and angst to pull it off – plus he commands the stage in an easy and confident manner. Rosie Beatie as Mrs Robinson herself makes the most of her looks and her stage presence – and never looks uneasy or self conscious in the role. But although the first half is quite long – the pace seemed a little rushed to build up the atmosphere of seduction or fully create the sense that Ben was unwittingly being trapped in a claustrophobic situation that was sucking the very life out of him.
The second half however is excellent as the story moves to the burgeoning relationship between Ben and Elaine – played with just the right level of sweetness by Molly Scurrell – and the breaking down of Ben’s world as he clashes with a now jealous Mrs Robinson and her on- the- war- path husband played by Darren Beatie, as well as his confused and helpless parents (Colin Bennett and Issy Alway) as they head towards the explosive finale.
The set is a wonderful creation – basically the bedroom of the house but flexibly becoming a number of other locations – allowing slick and effective scene changes facilitated by a very effective dance ensemble of Jak Martin and Helen McCartney, beautifully choreographed by Sally Scurrell, and who must have had at least 100 costume changes – all gorgeous. And with Paul Mann playing some very nice cameo roles they threatened to steal every single scene.
The sound scape by Duncan Broatch is a perfect mix of sixties tunes that created atmosphere and moved the action along. Personally I would have liked a little more Simon and Garfunkle – but that was probably just me.
Meticulously directed by Sally Scurrell, this is a a well executed and very competent production that is at its best when its not trying too hard to recreate the movie. A very entertaining evening.