Charles Webb’s 1963 novel The Graduate has certainly embedded itself in our culture. Its tone and atmosphere were captured soon after its publication in the widely known 1967 film adaptation, and in its accompanying Simon and Garfunkel songs. In the early 2000s, Terry Johnson gave new life to the story in a theatrical adaptation. Now, over sixteen years later, the West Yorkshire Playhouse and Curve Leicester have revived Johnson’s adaptation with the hope of returning to its timeless, resonant themes once again.
In case you’re not already familiar with it, The Graduate follows the story of Benjamin Braddock (Jack Monaghan), a recent college graduate who’s grown disillusioned with the world and can’t fathom his purpose in life. One night at a party celebrating his release into the adult world, his neighbour’s wife Mrs Robinson (Catherine McCormack) comes into his room and seduces him, and makes him a proposition he won’t soon forget.
By the end of the piece, it’s quite clear that director Lucy Bailey has a real talent for really fleshing out the complexities of human emotion in performance. There are some excellently drawn portrayals here, with McCormack capturing the fiery frustration of a woman who’s marriage has fallen apart, and Monaghan providing a hilariously awkward glimpse into the world of a young man on the brink of discovering his future.
Bailey harnesses a theatrical language that’s perfectly fitted to Johnson’s adaptation, dealing in a currency of wonderfully evoked atmospheres that draw the audience into the world of the characters. Such atmospheres establish a malleable tone within each scene, in which the actors are able to create a firm relationship with the audience, allowing a dual, texturised meaning to the semiotics laid out before them.
The second component of the theatrical language is brought to the fore by movement director Liam Steel, who makes the fluidity of physical action and scene transitions a key part of The Graduate‘s storytelling methods. Scenes blend seamlessly into one another, helping to create an impressionistic mediation on finding yourself and on having the courage to make mistakes. This dream-like scenography is further enhanced by Ian William Galloway’s superb, arresting video design.
Mike Britton’s production design is refreshingly simple, making use of minimal furniture to emphasis the significance of physical action, while also evoking the modern ’60s setting. Lighting designer Chris Davey draws on a palette of muted pastels and faded washes to further enhance the mood, and ensures that the action onstage is atmospherically charged and amplified.
Sitting in the audience of The Graduate truly makes you appreciate the importance of having a shared, live experience with other spectators. The ripples of laughter and shock throughout are delightfully infectious, and you find that it’s easy to lose yourself in Webb’s timeless, classic narrative. This production is a key exercise in how to evoke and uphold atmosphere within live performance, and also highlights its power and integrity. With beautifully crafted performances and a stunning scenography, The Graduate certainly shouldn’t be missed.
The Graduate is at the West Yorkshire Playhouse until May 27th. For more details, click here.