The Graduate, adapted for the stage by Terry Johnson, directed by Barrie Howard for Constantiaberg Theatre Players – Masque Theatre 14 – 30 November 2019
When the movie was released in 1967, I was not old enough to see it, but I do have a vague memory of catching it in my early 20’s. It was not one of my favourites and I remember little. I am better able to recall Bonnie and Clyde, Wait Until Dark and Doctor Dolittle!
So, I was not sure whether a stage version of The Graduate would be my cup of tea. Well, it was …..with milk and sugar! The adaptation for the stage seemed to give us more comedy than the 60’s angst of the movie, give the secondary love story more focus and is definitely written for laughs. It has some hilarious one-liners too.
With a light-touch approach of the seduction of a young man by an older woman, Johnson has avoided presenting a dated play, while Barrie Howard, the director, has seen to it that his superb cast treats the script with serious attention to comedy.
The director has hit the spot with the casting of his pivotal characters. Julie Summers as Mrs Robinson is just delicious. Played with such a sure grasp of her character’s intentions, excellent timing and great use of her eyes, voice and body, the seductress gave us just enough to see what lay beneath it all, both literally and figuratively!
Matthew Sellier, in his first leading role, was a knock-out. He reminds me of a young Matthew Broderick and certainly held his own when it came to portraying the wide-eyed innocence and confusion of a young man who has to make life choices after graduation. He and Mrs Robinson gravitate towards each other in a mutual fug of boredom and disillusionment and it is only when he meets Mrs Robinson’s daughter that things become clearer to him.
Rosie Thomson as Elaine Robinson was excellent too and unlike the movie, the stage version gives the character more scope to develop. Trish Sutton as Mrs Braddock, Benjamin’s mother, stole the show for me. She is a delight to watch, has great comedic skill and proves yet again in this role, what a consummate performer she is. In the role of Mr Braddock, Anthony Storr Lister was a good foil for his angst-ridden wife and had some great comedic moments, but I think an American accent would have been preferable for the part.
In the role of Mr Robinson , Gary Wright could have been more convincing as the betrayed husband but this could happen as he relaxes into the role and his delivery becomes less rushed.
There are multiple scenes in this production and the support cast feature in a hotel, a bar, a psychiatrist’s study and a church vestry. The scenes are short and are a challenge to any director, lighting designer and actor. Support actors have little time to establish character and make an impression and unfortunately this was evident in some of these scenes. Graham Ellis, with his distinctive stage presence, made an impression in both his scenes, but missed an opportunity to play two completely different characters. More attention could have been paid to the character definition of all the support roles. Scene changes, however, were very slick and the backstage crew were on it!
The programme speaks of set design, concept, realisation and construction and so I was intrigued to see this set as we sat waiting for the curtain to go up. The design is interesting, clever and quite unique for the Masque stage and I love that Howard always pushes the envelope when it comes to designing sets for Masque productions. He wanted timeless, but there is still a hint of 60’s – iconic beams, straight lines and liberated space – an imaginative and impressive set. So why did I feel that the set didn’t quite gel with the production? On writing this review and after much thought (because I loved the set) I think that It was the way the scenes changed within the set that jarred. If the bed, concierge desk, etc could have swivelled, moved with ease and changed position within the space and if scene changes were replaced with smooth scene transitions, this would, in my view, have worked far better than having the crew, albeit this fast and efficient crew, carrying bits of furniture on and off in half light. I also think that the lighting designer, Gary Fargher, would have had more to work with to show off his creativity.
Constantiaberg Theatre Players continue to produce good and challenging theatre and audiences are going to love this show, as I did. I think it is one of the best comedies we have seen at the Masque in recent years. It is highly recommended.

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