The Graduate

Original production adapted and directed by Terry Johnson

Theatre Royal, Newcastle: on tour

(2003)

Review by Peter Lathan

There are two ways to bring a film to the stage: one is to attempt to reproduce the original,as 2-Way Mirror did with Reservoir Dogs at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2001, and the other is to adapt it, more or less freely. Terry Johnson has wisely chosen the latter. Wisely, because films are not stage plays: they require a different approach, a different style of scripting and a very different style of acting. Film, too, is naturalistic to an extent which is impossible on stage: a stage play may be realistic but it cannot be naturalistic, as we are too conscious of what we might call the mechanics - lighting, set, the actual stage itself, and so on. As a result, a stage production of a film script will always feel wrong.

In addition, a staged version of a film always invites direct comparison with the original and, since it is in a different medium, will equally always suffer in that comparison.

The stage version of The Graduate, whilst retaining the essentials of the original, takes a different approach to the same story. We still have the angst of Benjamin, the graduate, himself (a nicely judged performance from Andrés Williams), but there is much more of a focus on Elaine (Jessica Brooks), who becomes a much more developed character.

Brooks' Elaine is half teenager, half woman, with an endearing gawkiness in her movement and an almost childlike emotional naïveté, which makes one wonder, as, at the end, she and Ben sit on their bed sorting Cheerios into their three kinds, whether these two very different people can make a go of their relationship: living happily ever after does not seem likely!

Both characters - Ben and Elaine - are well-drawn, but the others - with the exception of Mrs Robinson - do tend towards caricature, none more so than Mrs Braddock. She seems to have wandered in from a satire on fifties American middle-class women: to describe her as an air-head would be to insult air! This is not, I hasten to add, a comment on the acting of Barbara Dennan, for she plays well, but a criticism of the writing. She seems to be there for laughs and for no other reason.

In this she contrasts strongly with Mrs Robinson, played on tour by Glynis Barber, whose smouldering bitterness and consequent drinking is a much more telling comment on the position of women in that society.

The production values are, as one would expect, high: Rob Howell's set, composed almost entirely of louvre doors, works beautifully as a backdrop to all of the scenes, ably assisted by Hugh Vanstone's lighting, and the use of snatches of music of the early 60s is sensitive and evocative, without being overpowering in its associations.

The first half is a little on the long side: there were, for me at any rate, some longueurs, but the pace of the second half was faster and the scripting tighter.