Printable CopyTHE GRADUATE
Matt Byrne Media
Holden Street Theatres
Until 27 Oct 2018

Review by Thomas Filsell

“The Graduate” began as a novel written in 1963 by Charles Webb - who had himself recently graduated from Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts – before being adapted into the iconic 1967 film starring Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft. The stage adaptation and basis for the production offered by Matt Byrne and company was adapted by an English playwright in the year 2000, so you might expect a fresh perspective on social relationships, power dynamics and gender politics after more than 30 years of progression. You might think that in 2018, a time where entering the housing market comes only through inheritance or a pact with the devil, a story about future uncertainty faced by a young university graduate and the despondency that keeps him from doing much of anything at all and wherein the roles and relations of men and women are explored and expose, to see something edifying and socially relevant today. You would be wrong.

Johnson has transposed the main plot points from the movie version, keeping the same basic structure, and imported the main characters into his stage adaptation of the novel – but he left behind much of the characters’ vivacity and verisimilitude we found in the movie, opting to instead preserve the misogynistic, bigoted tendencies underlying a pre-civil rights American society.

Issues of systematic racial and sexual imbalances are played for laughs in the play, rather than explored and challenged in a satisfying way. All of Johnson’s characters are caricatures of small-minded people, or unmotivated, unsympathetic drones, merely doling out the story’s plot. Thankfully, the main cast of Matt Byrne’s 2018 production are themselves sympathetic and charismatic actors, enabling the audience to sit through the story for their sake more than for the play itself. Which indicates, most likely, a great success for Matt Byrne and company since the story upon which the play is based is so well known and the cast are engaging enough that we want to hear it all again is a sure indicator of some compelling acting.

Nathan Quadrio plays the disenchanted Benjamin Braddock, who is written in such a way that it is very hard for an audience to like him; he has no ambition, respects no institutions or the people in his life, does nothing with himself, his time, or the relative gifts he has been given living in a prosperous household in a wealthy neighbourhood, and receiving what must be a considerable monetary allowance on a regular basis despite his refusal to work and the disrespect he shows his dim-witted family members. He carries on a tryst with his married neighbour then calls her repulsive before disrespecting her spouse to his face and deciding to use his father’s money to pursue and woo her daughter. With no additional goals or reasons for his behaviour, Benjamin Braddock is not a very likeable young man. But, like Dustin Hoffman in 1967, Nathan Quadrio is able to make Benjamin sympathetic – funny and kind of despicable at the same time. Quadrio is a very likeable, charismatic performer. Without him it would be hard to see this play continue.

Similarly, Niki Martin played the sultry Mrs. Robinson, and her performance made a sad story bearable, even poignant in a way. Mrs. Robinson as written by Terry Johnson is a cruel, malignant woman, and a terrible mother. She, like Benjamin, has no respect for any of the people around her, including herself, treating her husband like a blind fool and her daughter like a pincushion that doubles as an ankle chain attached to a boulder at the midpoint of a decline. She has long been oppressed and forced into a loveless marriage where she has to conform to the conservative 1960s norm of mother and housewife, despite herself. An exploration of this theme would be nice post 2000, an updating of the character, some new intentions, a look into the mind of a woman oppressed by the patriarchy, but none of this is included. Instead, Mrs. Robinson is a depressed, soulless woman who hates her only child, resents her existence, and has no real character of her own. She is a seductress, a housewife and a mother – all stereotypes of women in the sixties. Niki Martin does a fantastic job of presenting this shallow woman in as convincing a way as possible. While the character as written is hard to empathise with, Martin’s Mrs. Robinson is compelling and full of life. Martin is a courageous actor, with a great ability to realise her part in a full body performance. She makes an unlovely character sympathetic while not shying away from any of the horrible moments Mrs. Robinson creates.

The remaining characters in “The Graduate” are essentially stereotypes, too. Elaine Robinson, Benjamin’s eventual paramour, is your typical suburban ‘girl-next-door’ type, with no goals of her own other than to marry and start a family. Hannah Tulip is a lovely Elaine. Cute, sincere and innocent, she is easy to like, despite her character being weak and paper-thin. Mr. and Mrs. Braddock are suburbanites, made particularly dumb and ineffectual in Terry Johnson’s play. Timothy Cousins and Heather Riley are fun and clearly enjoy playing with their characters’ cluelessness, though their characters’ relationship is in bad taste by today’s standards.

The accents are a bit off at times, but consistent enough that it won’t deter you unless you are listening out for it.

The stagecraft in between scenes was a bit clunky. The production would have benefitted from some curtains, or going to complete black when scenery needed to be changed instead of leaving the monitor on at the rear of stage which displayed a picture of something relevant to setting the scene.