If you haven’t read the book or seen the film The Graduate, then here’s a short summary: affable but slightly misguided recent graduate, Benjamin Braddock (played beautifully in the film by Dustin Hoffman) is seduced by his parents’ sexy if slightly too-often-tipsy best friend Mrs Robinson (cue classic line “Mrs Robinson, are you trying to seduce me?”). When his parents, obviously blissfully unaware of his frequent dalliances with the married Mrs Robinson, pair Benjamin up with the like-minded Elaine there’s problems ahead… because Elaine’s Mrs Robinson’s daughter. Who will Benjamin choose, and who will choose Benjamin? That’s the basic premise, but the success of the film relies heavily on the sexy appeal of the middle-aged Mrs Robinson, the likeability of her daughter Elaine and her connection with Benjamin and, perhaps most importantly, some level of empathy for our “hero”. Director Lucy Bailey’s version of The Graduate, adapted for the stage by Terry Johnson, captured absolutely none of these key features in my opinion, and that’s what makes this an odd kind of retelling.
Benjamin Braddock is played with an awkward charm by Jack Monaghan, but this charm seems to fade as we see his bright character dwindle with little direction. Benjamin seems altogether too ungrateful and privileged to truly connect with, and his relationship with Mrs Robinson reflects this. That brings us nicely on to the awkward fumblings with Mrs Robinson, played more like a drunk at pub kicking out time rather than a tipsy temptress by Catherine McCormack. She slinks across the stage with a letchy swagger that is altogether a bit embarrassing rather than appealing. Don’t get me wrong, she’s a stunning looking and very attractive woman, but there is no chemistry between her and Benjamin and it just comes across as a bit sad.
High hopes for Mrs Robinson’s daughter, Elaine, being a little less irritating? No chance. Emma Curtis is whiny and annoying, and why Benjamin bothers chasing after her is beyond me. It seems unrealistic, yet to be fair to Jack Monaghan he does carry most of the cast with his charisma. However, in my view, none of the characters are likeable enough for me to empathise with them, leaving little point in really getting to know the story. Mingled with this is some pretty weird axe-wielding akin to Jack Nicholson in The Shining and some dragging scenes about the variety of Cheerios (and plenty of fully-clothed bed-writhing, if that’s what you’re into).
One major success of this production is the stunning use of set, created by Mike Britton. The use of curtains to create atmosphere and scene backdrops, mixed with the ever-moving bed to demonstrate setting changes makes the show flow seamlessly through time-frames and various settings from a house party to a swanky hotel room. This stops the play from seeming a bit stop-and-start, which is wonderful.
Overall, the idea to bring The Graduate to the stage is a great one. There’s plenty to like about the show, it’s just a shame it didn’t quite seduce me.