NODA review of "The Graduate"

Author: Jon Fox

As play director Victoria Franklin outlined in her programme director’s notes, “it’s a tricky business turning films into plays”!   So wrote Michael Billington, “The Guardian” theatre critic, and how right he is!

With its many necessary and quick scene changes, Victoria was entirely correct in largely dispensing with the traditional complicated and lengthy scene changes and working with minimal set, great use of lighting and the imaginatively used screen projection on stage.

Thus this landmark 1967 film, so iconic and set in the early years of the welcome social attitudes revolution that has so changed many of the old prejudicial attitudes of yesteryear and freed most of us – I would argue in particular theatre and artistic people – from the grim old ways that once so chained the human spirit.   If this play (and film) is not about changing times, then it is about nothing.   Author Terry Johnson has helped our humanity to move into a better place, I would suggest!

That being said though, this story is also about human weakness, immorality and giving into temptation, which is still here in our human condition today and has not changed that much.

Victoria had the assurance and comfort of having a richly talented seam of highly experienced actors backed up by some exceptional newcomers to Cobham Players. In particular, the strikingly youthful and prodigious talent of Maxfield Usher who gave a magnificent portrayal of the troubled but spirited Benjamin Braddock. Truly, a performance to remember fondly.

Other notable CP newcomers were Toni Conyers as the immoral alcoholic Mrs Robinson. Toni has a rare stage presence and I watched her performance and loved every moment. Rob Brockman gave a powerful portrayal of her husband, a businessman caught between the despair of having an unloving and manipulative wife and a beloved daughter soon to marry someone else who was effectively “kidnapped by the son of his close friend" and who ran away with his daughter.  Well, Mr Robinson certainly reacted and then some!   As well he might!   Another stage craftsman is Rob.

Ben’s proud parents, keen to show off their talented son at his graduation party were played to the hilt by Graham Budd and Kim Haywood (another CP debutee) as Mr and Mrs Braddock.

Susanna Lavery gave a beautiful portrayal of Elaine Robinson, more worldly wise than Benjamin, who progressed from disliking Ben, through finding him cute and at the last, falling in love with him.

The play had great pace, good and taped use of the famous film music, though we were treated to a small band in person who played “And here’s to you Mrs Robinson” at the start.

I was impressed by the excellent diction throughout with not a single prompt needed!   Backstage folk did sterling work too - Stage Manager Alan Barlow and his team did their work smoothly. Andrew Mair on sound and Stephen Farr on lighting, plus projection operators Paul Finlayson and Cathy Hudson all deserve praise. The Californian accents were generally good, some excellent, and none were poor. Credit to Nan Sadler for coaching accents. Cathy was also assistant director and I must assume that in a production of this scale and which achieved the top standard it most certainly attained, that Victoria and Cathy would have worked rather like a pair of ducks. That is, paddling furiously, unseen, while all above surface was serene and bright. I might add, brilliant too!   Truly a night to remember!

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