Review: The Graduate, West Yorkshire Playhouse

Catherine McCormack in Lucy Bailey's new production of The Graduate.
Catherine McCormack in Lucy Bailey's new production of The Graduate.
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Lucy Bailey’s production of Titus Andronicus was so gory it caused an outbreak of fainting among the delicate audiences of the Globe a few years ago. No danger of history repeating itself here, although there are moments of absolute, pure discomfort as Mrs Robinson embarks on her destructive seduction that might have theatre-goers watching through their fingers.

The focus of her attention is of course Benjamin Braddock. Never Ben, Benny or Benji. Always Benjamin. The formality suits the 20 year old and Jack Monaghan perfectly plays his awkward rebellion against the comfortable, but ultimately unfilling fate he sees ahead of him.

Emma Curtis as Elaine and Jack Monaghan as Benjamin Braddock in The Graduate.

Emma Curtis as Elaine and Jack Monaghan as Benjamin Braddock in The Graduate.

Everyone is trying to escape something here and Bailey captures expertly the claustrophobia of a middle-class appearing to live the American Dream, but just going through the motions It’s a world of Cinzano-stocked drinks cabinets and of soft focus dinner parties, but scratch beneath the formica surface and it’s also a world without meaning.

Mrs Robinson is the symbol of that disillusion and lost promise. It’s not an easy part to play. She’s a vindictive, selfish drunk, but an attractive one who, slurring aside, often speaks uncomfortable truths.

Catherine McCormack is perfect casting and any worries she might have had about falling short of Anne Bancroft’s iconic portrayal is cast aside with her stockings. Sharp, hateful and vulnerable, she brings depth to what in lesser hands could have been easy cougar caricature.

Bailey too is aware that most of the audience will know the play through that 1967 film and embraces rather than ignores the inevitable comparisons. A brave move perhaps, but the filmic elements pay off and bring colour and atmosphere to what otherwise might have been a stark production.

Catherine McCormack as Mrs Robinson and Jack Monaghan as Benjamin in The Graduate.

Catherine McCormack as Mrs Robinson and Jack Monaghan as Benjamin in The Graduate.

Terry Johnson’s adaptation of Charles Webb’s original novel is a thing of beauty, but even with a script of this high a calibre it takes a company of supreme talent to pull it off. Fortunately that’s exactly what Bailey has assembled.

The Graduate is a satire of suburbia and here it is occasionally dark, often laugh out loud funny and beautiful from start to finish. What more do you want from a night at the theatre?