The Graduate

Charles Webb, adapted by Terry Johnson
TABS Productions and Angela Brown Ltd.
Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford, and touring
(2010)

Production photo

It’s a brave company which takes on a story with so many and varied locations and transfers it to the confines of the stage, especially when the film of the same name is so well-known that any woman dating a younger man is often referred to as a ‘Mrs. Robinson’. Who could forget the predatory Anne Bancroft in her blatant seduction of the inexperienced and callow Dustin Hoffman? Pure comical genius - yet there is much more to the story than laughter at the young man’s predicament.

Written by Webb when he was only twenty three, and semi-autobiographical (emphasis on the ‘semi‘ as he insists that the original Mrs. R was not a seductress), his story is one of dissatisfaction and frustration at the emptiness and false values of the life around him.

Yes - it is just as funny here watching an inept and awkward young man trying to book a hotel room; yes - the shock of a naked Mrs. Robinson still causes a gasp with the laughter, and the totally bored stripper is hilarious (she can even swing tassels), but the deeper elements of youth rejecting their parents’ affluent consumerist lifestyle to search for a more meaningful life are even more apparent.

Tabs Productions was formed in 1989 and have numerous and varied award-winning productions to their credit, mostly employing ‘jobbing actors’, and in this show there are no well-known ‘names’ in the cast, with seemingly only one who has ever appeared on television, which could account for the less than full auditorium, but the many who did go were treated to as fine a display of quality performances as they are likely to see anywhere - in fact, I felt I could understand and sympathise with the feelings of each and every character even more so than I had in the film.

Grant Orviss’ Benjamin is the definitive version of a young man beginning to want more out of life than a meaningless sexual encounter, and Karen Henson’s Mrs. Robinson is as bored, frustrated and as sensually predatory as expected. Never without a drink and a cigarette in her hand - even the communion wine is not sacrosanct - the disappointment in her loveless marriage shows.

Tiny, almost painfully thin, Antonia Christophers is a consummate Elaine, trying to be the perfect and dutiful daughter that her parents expect, yet unable to resist Benjamin and his vision of life - well, he is very persistent! A beautiful performance of confusion torn between two different life styles - “I don’t want to go against the world” - and she screams and stamps her feet quite delightfully.

All the parents talk incessantly at the top of their voices with advice and instructions - no wonder their offspring are driven to rebel. American accents are in place throughout and each character is faultlessly portrayed - people we can easily recognise.

With eleven different locations to represent, Sarah Wynne Kordas (she is also the stripper) has kept the set simple - just two doors and two windows, with modular furniture to become whatever is needed for the scene, although this does require rather a lot of re-arrangement. Terry Johnson’s sympathetic adaptation has kept all of the original comedy - and added more - with Adrian Lloyd-James’ direction keeping the pace, and the laughter, on a high.

I hope that the people who stayed home to watch the football last night now realise what they have missed. This production is a gem!

Touring to Middlesbrough, Peterborough, Derby, Chatham and Basingstoke.

Reviewer: Sheila Connor