The Graduate has become its own mini-industry on Shaftesbury Avenue. As other foot-and-mouth stricken plays measure their runs in terms of number of weeks instead of months, Terry Johnson's adaptation of the 1967 film classic has rolled into its second year and fourth Mrs Robinson in the West End. If for nothing else, it should be applauded for its longevity.
Of course, its extended life is due in no small part to those four, celebrity Mrs Robinsons, currently Hollywood actress Anne Archer. So what of Ms Archer, best known previously as Michael Douglas' wronged wife in the 1987 film Fatal Attraction?
Well, for my money, Archer is the sexiest Mrs Robinson yet. At 54, she may be the oldest of the woman to take on the role, but she's got a body that makes this thirtysomething woman positively green with envy. In fact, I'd wager that even most gym-fixated twentysomething gals would suck in their stomachs at the sight of Archer's sculpted midriff - let alone her seemingly unending legs. Archer also wields her body well; she is thin, elegant, seductive and, through her very features, oozes a beautiful world-weariness.
And yet this stunning visual effect is largely spoiled by a wooden and seemingly off-cue delivery, as if Archer is acting through gauze rather than interacting with the characters around her. If I were seeing this production for the first time, I would label this a failing of the actress. However, after successive Mrs Robinsons with similar weaknesses, I now suspect that the fault lies in the direction.
Boredom doesn't really play well on stage. It's an emotion (or lack of emotion) that's essentially static - all blank stares, long pauses and general fatigue. I can only assume that this is how Johnson wants his middle-aged seductresses to behave. I think it's a mistake. To me, Mrs Robinson's tragedy is marked more by melancholy than monotony - or should be. There's plenty of evidence for melancholy in the script, too, but it's dulled away in performance.
Elsewhere, Andres Williams makes a good Benjamin - just the right blend of nervousness, nerviness and nerdiness. If only he could temper that whining nasality that seems to afflict so many faux American accents. Coral Beed also engages as young Elaine Robinson. Though "simple", she conveys well the quirkiness that makes her an object for Benjamin's infatuation.
Though I'm less taken with The Graduate second time around, I would happily recommend it to show virgins. And to the director, I would even more happily recommend a few changes that, in my mind, would vastly improve the current offering.
Note: The following review dates from February 2001 and the production's third cast.
Writing about The Graduate isn't so much about reviewing a play anymore as it is about filing a celebrity report - who's in, who's out, onstage and off, clothed and unclothed. Ever since Kathleen Turner first created a stage sensation nearly a year ago for a brief and extremely dimly lit nude scene, playing the Anne Bancroft role of the predatory Mrs Robinson – out to seduce Benjamin, the young son of the hosts of a party she's attending with her husband – this production has been a triumph of hype over experience.
When the model (and former Mrs Mick Jagger) Jerry Hall took over from Turner, the critical knives came out, but so did the flashguns of the paparazzi. The show's continued success was guaranteed. And now, with the British actress Amanda Donohoe – now returned from self-imposed LA (and LA Law) exile – replacing Hall, the critics were dutifully shuffled in yet again, along with much airkissing in the stalls from the likes of Barbara Windsor and Cilla Black to set the celebrity tone.
Further evidence that this is not so much a play as a live version of OK! magazine must be the fact that the young object of Mrs Robinson's attentions – who goes on to fall in love with her daughter Elaine instead – is played by Andres Williams, who has, in real life, set up home with the actress playing Elaine, Coral Beed.
So what, in the circumstances, is left to be said about the play, adapted and directed by Terry Johnson, anyway? This efficiently crafted, but cynical and arbitrarily different exercise in offering theatregoers a live version of something they already know well from a superior film, has always struck me as an entirely pointless affair, adding nothing to the experience of that film at all – so why not simply rent the movie?
Well, of course, there's that nude scene – in the film you get Benjamin's reaction, not Mrs Robinson's body – but is it worth £32.50 for a close-up view? Donohoe is voluptuous enough – a kind of low-rent Faye Dunawaye with a cut-glass accent and hour-glass figure. At 27, the aforementioned Williams is a little older than he should be, but reproduces Dustin Hoffman's nervy nerdiness well. Beed's Elaine is like Linda Blair reincarnated.
Future cast changes, however, can happen without me.
Note: The following review dates from August 2000 and the production's second cast.
After Jerry Hall snagged the role of Mrs Robinson (previously played by Kathleen Turner), a media frenzy about her impending stage nakedness ensued. To my mind, the key question was: How much of a star vehicle, or debacle, would a recast The Graduate with an untried actress prove to be?
The plot will be familiar to most people. Brilliant, if truculent, Benjamin Braddock (Josh Cohen) returns from college a malcontent. While a party downstairs awaits his attendance, he is visited in his room by Mr Braddock (Alex Giannini), best pal Mr Robinson (Colin Stinton), and Mrs Braddock (Amanda Boxer), who wears dresses (costumes by Rob Howell) sporting patterns best left to carpet designers. In contrast, Mrs Robinson is a predatory figure slinking in a royal blue, figure-hugging outfit.
An affair between Mrs Robinson and Benjamin continues for some weeks. Tainted by each other's despair and cynicism, however, Benjamin goes against his word and takes Elaine Braddock (a winning Lucy Punch) on a date, leaving his liaison with her mother behind. Elaine is both repelled and intrigued by Benjamin's brooding nature, whilst he is swiftly infatuated. He sets out to win her, even if it means sabotaging her wedding.
Director Terry Johnson's treatment of Charles Webb's novel is judicious and inventive. He adds several new scenes, and daringly omits most of the climactic church abduction, an iconic scene in Mike Nichols' celebrated film. His light directorial hand is fine for most of the cast, but not when his leading lady needs firm guidance.
As the curtain rises - and in this case, it is Howell's sandy-coloured shutter doors, lit by Hugh Vanstone - one wonders how the former model will perform. Within moments, Hall undermines her cause with careful, but sadly monochrome delivery. Her portrayal is unwittingly something of a cipher. Her face is usually blank, although she can hit her mark with a telling line. Often pursing her mouth, she lets her lines trail behind like a lengthy wedding dress.
Happily, Josh Cohen is a more confident and expressive actor. His Benjamin is an intriguing cocktail of immature impudence, endearing feelings of guilt, and provocative impulses whose nature scrapes against Elaine's inherent optimism.
To the star-struck crowds, Jerry Hall's lack of stage experience does not matter. Her participation in this moderately entertaining production overshadows its raison d'etre - or lack of it. But I remain unsure what the point of this theatre incarnation is.
The following review is of the original cast of The Graduate .
Let's get it out of the way. Yes, Kathleen Turner does take her kit off in this new stage adaptation of Mike Nichols' classic 1967 film. But, don't get too excited. Turner's nudity is no reason to see The Graduate.
No disrespect to the woman - she's not as trim as in her Body Heat days but she's still a looker. Nevertheless, the scene snippet is so brief and the stage lights so dim during it that you won't cop much of a gander no matter how many 20 pence coins you feed into your binocular dispenser.
No, this early seduction scene is not reason enough to see The Graduate, but thankfully, there are plenty of other reasons to make the effort worthwhile. Director Terry Johnson, who also adapted the script for the stage, goes back to the original book to come up trumps with a tale that is full of wry humour and pathos, albeit one that is peopled with some intensely unlikeable characters.
Benjamin Braddock (Matthew Rhys) is a self-centred over-achiever who tries and fails to break away from his parents' comfortable, middle-class life. As a second-rate form of rebellion, he embarks on a summer-long affair with Mrs Robinson (Turner), the bored, alcoholic wife of his father's best friend (prompting one of the all-time best back-handed compliments, 'Mrs Robinson, you are the most attractive of all my parents' friends'). But that, too, goes off the boil when Benjamin develops a fancy for his lover's shrill and rather simple-minded young daughter (Kelly Reilly).
Though you can never warm to any of these characters, their utter recklessness is highly watchable. And Turner, Rhys and Reilly should all be commended for making the parts wholly their own, rather than attempting to ape their famous film prototypes (created, of course, by Anne Bancroft, Dustin Hoffman and Katharine Ross).
If you have more sympathy for the downtrodden parents - Paul Jesson's Mr Braddock, Amanda Boxer's Mrs Braddock and especially Colin Stinton's Mr Robinson, who is unquestionably the victim of the piece - it's a function of the script. You really want to side with the old fogies rather than the bright sparks and rightly so. By the end of the climactic wedding scene, in particular, you've developed a distinct whiff of fraud in young Benjamin's motivation and a real sense that this is in no way a happy ending.
Johnson's play is very much it's own being, but don't despair if you're a big fan of the film. There's enough of a nod to its predecessor - not least the wonderful strains of Simon and Garfunkel during the interludes, with 'Mrs Robinson' bringing up the finale - to ensure you won't leave feeling cheated.