Some thirteen years since its London stage debut and massive success that has seen this production tour the world, The Graduate has finally ‘graduated’ to the Melbourne stage with model Jerry Hall playing the infamous role of Mrs Robinson along with an Australian cast.
The book and original direction of this production are by Terry Johnson, based on both the 1963 novel and 1967 movie of the same name. This script contains several scenes not in either version, but is largely identical plot-wise. When young Benjamin Braddock returns home to Los Angeles for his graduation party, Mrs Robinson, the wife of his father’s law partner wastes no time in seducing him in his own bedroom. While at first shocked and embarrassed, Benjamin’s desire to commence his adulthood and anxiety at what this next stage of his life will bring, compels him to arrange a tryst with Mrs Robinson and so their affair begins. Things start to get sticky when his parents, keen on seeing him make something of himself, arrange for him to go out on a date with the Robinson’s daughter Elaine.
Timothy Dashwood in the lead role (although you could be mistaken for thinking Mrs Robinson was the lead based on the way this show is promoted) does an excellent job of making the extremely neurotic Benjamin a character that is quirkily lovable. Benjamin’s anxiety about his life is completely irrational and therefore difficult to appreciate, but his timidly ineffectual approach to losing his virginity and appreciation for the sweet qualities of Elaine are well presented by Dashwood, if somewhat meticulously directed by Jo Turner.
Jerry Hall adds sass and predatory guile to the sashay we expect to see from her modelling background and statuesque figure. Most convincing when being lascivious or portraying aspects of a nature closer to her own, Hall is disappointingly ‘one-note’ in her performance. Doubtless, credit is due for baring all to an audience at the age of 57, but once dressed again Hall’s Mrs Robinson seems more disdainful of Benjamin than seductive. As though having him scratch her sexual itch would be a bitter pill to swallow – no pun intended.
Hall follows some impressive actresses in this role including Kathleen Turner, Linda Gray and Lorraine Bracco. Gray in particular found nuance and subtlety in this complex character with a painfully stifled background who is trying to control it in her own misguided way. Hall doesn’t reach this level of detail and instead offers an almost pantomimic characterisation.
Claire Lovering as young Elaine Robinson is quite delightful, hitting her comic timing on the head and developing a character so endearing that it’s easy to see why Benjamin is so quickly turned around. Whether it’s playing drunk, disgusted, overwhelmed or heartbroken, Lovering is particularly wonderful throughout.
Peter Houghton and Pippa Grandison provide able support as the Braddocks, adding charming bursts of comedy, while Luke Hewitt creates a blustering Mr Robinson and convinces in his feeling of betrayal.
Adam Murphy is criminally wasted in the ensemble, (but we all have to eat) while Briony Williams proves surprisingly dexterous in an amusing cameo as a stripper.
Rob Howell’s louvred set design has aged well and still impresses with its versatility and inventiveness. The inclusion of a range of Simon and Garfunkel songs including, of course, their hit single “Mrs Robinson”, help to illicit the era.
Fans of the film may find the pacing here a little different, but otherwise this is an amiable and entertaining play, if not at all challenging. And if you’re just looking to seeing Jerry Hall in the nude, well shame on you… but you might want to bring your night-vision goggles along!