Review: The Graduate (West Yorkshire Playhouse)
Catherine McCormack stars in Lucy Bailey's production based on the novel by Charles Webb
It's remarkable how many recent productions – certainly at West Yorkshire Playhouse, but also elsewhere – are versions of classic films. Some offer a reimagining of the original, but Terry Johnson's adaptation of The Graduate, touring in a Playhouse and Curve joint production, aims more for recreation, though seeking a little depth by reference to Charles Webb's novel.
The result is a polished piece of theatre, with nicely judged humour, but rather predictable, occasionally stolid, even in Lucy Bailey's slick and stylish production which makes clever use of back projections to convey thoughts or record what's going on in the next room or by the pool. The final shots of the film are perhaps not transferrable to stage and the Johnson-Bailey replacement contains one of the few scenes to live up to the promise of "hilarious black comedy" before the play ends with a touching scene of togetherness that – with appropriate ambiguity - visually recalls one of Edward Hopper's lonely hotel rooms.
Famously The Graduate deals with the seduction of Benjamin Braddock by Mrs Robinson, a family friend of his prosperously philistine parents, and their continuing affair until his meeting with Mrs Robinson's daughter, Elaine, brings a switch in his affections, a proposal of marriage and all sorts of messy consequences. However, as Johnson's adaptation makes clear, Benjamin's coming of age is not just sexual; from his return from college in the east, he feels cut off from his parents' social group and, when he reconnects with the world, the join is an unexpected one.
The Graduate is very much a '60s period piece and one of the pleasures of the evening is the disconnect between exemplary manners and what is being said and done. Benjamin, about to leap into bed with his parents' regular dinner guest, addresses her respectfully as "Mrs Robinson". Similarly, in the face of all his refusals to obey, conform or even discuss, his father and Mr Robinson remain "sir" to him.
Jack Monaghan finds the humour of a character who can project the most outrageous quirks of behaviour by the wilful use of "I don't know". His gaucheness is a real character trait, but is it also a policy to get his own way? Catherine McCormack is suitably seductive as Mrs Robinson, but a rather generic drunk and most convincing in her world-weary lack of interest in anything and her dismissive one-liners.
Tom Hodgkins and Rebecca Charles do well as the elder Braddocks to suggest the upper-middle-class complacency of their milieu and Richard Clothier has a fine axe-wielding scene of marital fury as Mr Robinson. But the only character to engage our interest fully is Elaine, splendidly played by Emma Curtis with a touching earnestness and an oddly convincing line in spirited docility - Ophelia anyone? Lifted by her performance and with Monaghan as a more proactive Benjamin, the second half has much more bite and humanity.
The Graduate runs at West Yorkshire Playhouse until 27 May, and Curve, Leicester from 30 May to 10 June.