Adapted by Terry Johnson
Based on the novel by Charles Webb and the motion picture screenplay by Calder Willingham and Buck Henry. By special arrangement with Studio Canal
New Vic Theatre, Newcastle Under Lyme
When Kathleen Turner, Jerry Hall and Amanda Donahoe slipped out of Mrs Robinson's dress in the famous seduction scene during The Graduate's run in the West End, any blushes they may have had were partially hidden behind strategically placed louvre doors.
The publicity shots for the New Vic's revival of the '60s comedy drama show the traditional view of the seductress adjusting her stockings while glimpses of her voluptuous body are tantalisingly partly visible in the shadows. But at this theatre-in-the-round; there's definitely no hiding place. When Mrs Robinson disrobes in front of Benjamin, Diana Marchment is as naked as the day she was born.
There's no trace of embarrassment as she makes her intentions perfectly clear to Benjamin. It's a strong performance by Marchment who's equally comfortable as a conniving, selfish bitch as she is a cultured vamp in need of a toyboy. She's excellent too when she gets drunk with her daughter, although generally she doesn't really give the impression of being an alcoholic. However, that's probably more a criticism of the script than Marchment's interpretation.
The Graduate has been around for such a long time that virtually everyone must know the story and it takes an outstanding actor in the role of Benjamin to make you forget about Dustin Hoffman's performance in the movie. David Newman does just that. He's variously angry, timid, repressed, lustful and confused.
When Benjamin surprisingly falls in love with Mrs Robinson's prissy daughter Elaine who doesn't seem his type, he's not conforming to his parents' wishes to find a decent girl - he's recklessly following his heart no matter where that might lead. Newman gives the character just the right amount of vulnerability and frailty.
Charity Wakefield shines as Elaine, the prim, straight-laced, naive daughter who's the complete antithesis of her mother. Occasionally there's a slight hint of rebelliousness but never enough to convince you that she and Benjamin might have a future together. Yet that's the strength of the play - the surprising nature of their relationship and whether both might be able to change enough for their liaison to continue.
There's also a stirring performance from Ray Lonnen as Benjamin's father who can't get it into his head that his 20-year-old son might have different aspirations and social skills to his own.
Chris Garner directs imaginatively while Lis Evans's simple set is highly effective, with the double bed in Benjamin's room later splitting to form everything from a hotel reception to church doors. Daniella Beattie's lighting creates just the right mood and James Earls-Davis uses sound cleverly, especially the '60s montages.
There are a couple of weak American accents and the ending is rather strange as Benjamin and Elaine discuss trivialities which may or may not have any bearing on whether they have a future together.
Overall, though, this is a commendable production from a theatre which is off the beaten track yet whose reputation is growing because of its inventive, original work.
"The Graduate" runs until June 18th
Reviewer: Steve Orme