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Gold Coast review - The Graduate: thoroughly engaging

By Douglas Kennedy

 

The Graduate

 Adapted by Terry Johnson based on the novella by Charles Webb

 Gold Coast Little Theatre.

Directed by Michelle Watkins

Booking www.gclt.com.au Phone: 07 55322096. Season ends February 24.

Timing two hours (with interval).

 



The Simon and Garfunkel theme, which includes the line ‘And here’s to you Mrs. Robinson,’ is as familiar to Baby Boomers as the 1960s.

Mike Nichols’ film The Graduate, which premiered in 1967 with an awkward, but charismatic newcomer, Dustin Hoffman is a staple of the era.

Before the Hollywood classic there was Charles Webb’s novella of the same name in 1963, but who would have expected British dramatist Terry Johnson to serve up a theatrical version of the risqué tale in 2000.

The Graduate opened at The Gielgud Theatre in London, nearly a quarter of a century ago, starring Katherine Turner, and has now opened the GCLT’s 2024 season at the Southport theatre.

The Gold Coast’s Mrs. Robinson is played with delicious seduction by Pamela Payne – who reveals in the program notes that she once played Guy Pearce’s love interest in Neighbours as a 21-year-old and got to kiss him – while GCLT president Stuart Morgan is Mrs. R’s toy boy Benjamin Braddock.

I doubt that the term toy boy was around in the 1960s, but risky adulterous affairs are as ancient as Methuselah, and I understand in some quarters as popular as ever.

On the surface the idea of a middle-aged, albeit attractive, frustrated alcoholic housewife making a play for a 20-year-old college graduate sounds pathetic, if not borderline tragic, but both the film and play give it a comic twist.

Johnson’s script, in tandem with Calder Willingham and Buck Henry’s screenplay, has a surfeit of chuckles as young Ben navigates the first world horrors of being paraded before his parents’ middle-class and smug friends and neighbours.  Morgan is suitably uncomfortable as his father, Mr Bradock (Phillip Victor), showers him with praise for his college achievements and coaxes him out of his bedroom, in his new wetsuit, to do a lap of honour for his achievements at the family party.

Then we meet one of these stodgy friends, Mr. Robinson (Christian Bischoff ) who woos Ben into the prospect of a brilliant future with one word, ‘plastics.’

It would appear that’s the best bet for a happy future until Mrs. Robinson pops in, martini in hand, with a offer of something much more basic and carnal.

Ben starts off defensive and dismissive, but ultimately, like many men his age, can resist anything but temptation. (By the way that’s an Oscar Wilde quote which is not in the play).

As if things are not complicated enough, the manure makes contact with the fan when Ben meets, and fall for, the Robinson’s likeable and openly charming daughter Elaine (Jessica White).

The play’s second half is understandably more explosive as matters must be resolved and accounts paid.

Director Michelle Watkins has gathered a fine cast –  Pamela Payne is something of a scene stealer as Mrs. R – and the whole production has a definite ‘60s feel.

The Graduate makes for a thoroughly engaging, and sometimes bittersweet night at the theatre, and the guitar soundtrack is reminiscent of Paul Simon’s enduring Mrs. Robinson song as well as other Simon and Garfunkel tunes from that time.

Thanks, GCLT for the memories.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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