It's surprising to think that The Graduate started life as a cult novel by Charles Webb, became a 1967 Oscar-winning film, then in 2000, penned and directed by Briton Terry Johnson, was turned into a stage hit. In fact, the story has adapted so well to the stage, it could well have been a play from the outset, providing the audience with both a poignant romance and a black comedy.
The story revolves around 21-year-old Benjamin Braddock, played by Andres Williams, who has just graduated with top marks to the delight of his parents. He seems to have a fine career ahead of him - until he meets one of his parents' oldest friends, Mrs Robinson, who seduces and 'corrupts' him.
Glynis Barber, best known from TV's Dempsey and Makepeace, disappoints as Mrs Robinson, portraying her as a brash alcoholic and failing to generate any of smouldering allure that would makes you understand why Benjamin becomes so captivated. Possibly this is not helped by Barber's changes to the famous seduction scene (turning her back to the audience while dropping her towel to waist level only). While certainly not a plot imperative, the brief and dimly lit nudity in this scene has become synonymous with the play itself; tampering with it seems to slow the relationship between the two main characters.
Rob Howell's simple and brilliant set - basically numerous louver doors - transform into a church, bedroom, apartment and hotel as required. Unfortunately, Tamara Harvey's lax direction results in a slow and plodding first half, in which most of the character fail to cohere. It's not until the second half that you feel the cast are making the most of the material.
The hits of the 1960s - amongst them "Everyone's Talking" by Harry Nilsson and, of course, Simon and Garfunkel's "The Sound of Silence" and "Mrs. Robinson" - cover the scene changes and move the play along, ensuring the era is captured at the same time.
But toe-tapping and nostalgia aside, the evening certainly belongs to Williams, who having already played Benjamin in the West End opposite two other Mrs Robinsons (Amanda Donohoe and Anne Archer), displays a real confidence as the totally confused and unconfident Benjamin. He holds the production together.
- John Dixon (reviewed at Newcastle's Theatre Royal)