Theatre Review: The Graduate
Theatre Review: The Graduate

Thankfully, audiences have more class in Perth than in the West End. When Jerry Hall first stepped out nude as the middle-age vixen Mrs Robinson 10 years ago, about 20 photographers stood up and took photos with flashes before running out of the theatre. The pictures ended up in the newspapers the next day.

The chance to see one of the world's top celebrities in the flesh has no doubt helped sell tickets to this Australian premiere but the key scene is literally over in a flash, with Hall partly silhouetted to the response of murmurs from the audience and not the whir of camera shutters.

Like the film, upon which this is largely based along with Charles Webb's original 1962 novel, the money shot occurs early on, allowing the audience to settle down and focus on the story of an aimless young man trying to shake off the ennui of his privileged upbringing

It is 1963 and young Benjamin Braddock, back home after a stellar few years at college, rejects the deadening materialism of his parents ("We are all grotesque," he tells them.) but he isn't sure how to go about it. Benjamin stumbles into an affair with Mrs Robinson, the bitter alcoholic wife of his father's business partner, and things are swinging until he falls in love with her daughter, Elaine, unleashing a sequence of events that culminate with him crashing Elaine's wedding to another man.

Displaying some good comic timing, Hall is an enjoyable Mrs Robinson as she toys with her younger prey, delivering her sardonic bon mots and anaesthetising herself against her disappointed life. ("I upset senators at fondue parties," is just one of her many zingers.)

While Hall is the marquee name, she has some strong competition as the star of the production directed by Peter Lawrence, who helmed the US tour.

In so many ways, the play's success rests with young American actor Rider Strong (yes, that is his birth name), who brings a likeable charm to the otherwise annoying, self-absorbed flip-flopping obsessions of the antihero Benjamin.

It is in this area, though, where the script reveals its weaknesses in the adaptation from screen to stage.

The filmic series of scene changes give little scope for the audience to engage with Benjamin's character arc as he bounces from his hitchhiking road trip (for all of eight days) to his affair with Mrs Robinson, to his sudden proposal of marriage to Elaine.

However, the look and feel of the play is delicious.

The set design by Olivier Award winner Rob Howell is elegant and deceptively simple. A backdrop of white louvred doors captures projections of exterior scenes or changes its configurations as the action switches from Benjamin's room at home to a hotel lobby and bedroom, a seedy strip joint, a loft apartment and the penultimate chapel scene.

A scene set in the Robinsons' living room is one for lovers of the early 1960s retro chic aesthetic of TV's Mad Men series.

Hugh Vanstone's lighting, filtered through the louvres, enhances the golden nostalgia and the soundtrack - snippets of Simon and Garfunkel, the Beach Boys and the Mamas and the Papas - is satisfyingly wistful without being intrusive.

Complementing the imported talent are the strong WA actors, whose accents are so well nailed down one can't distinguish them from the authentic Americans in this play set in Pasadena, California.

Luke Hewitt, in particular, is terrific as the cuckold Mr Robinson, balancing the move through comedy to heartfelt anger beautifully.

Kate Jenkinson, as Elaine, provides a strong foil to Strong's Braddock and to Hall's wicked witch of a mother. Her reality-check lecture to Benjamin after he whinges about his life while sitting in the strip joint is a pivotal point in the play.

This play is slick and stylish on several levels, providing plenty of laughs and entertainment.

Most satisfying, though, is the opportunity it has given local actors to shine and to take their bows before a large audience in the best theatre in Perth.

Unfortunately, given the talent at hand, that is an occasion all too rare.


  • THEATRE *

The Graduate

Adapted by Terry Johnson

His Majesty's Theatre

Review: Stephen Bevis <div class="endnote">

The Graduate runs until September 12. </div>

The West Australian

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