HBT’s first production of the year, The Graduate, was humorous, enticing and daring to say the least. Caedmon Hall was a very fitting venue for the production, the set was built convincingly and the actors did a fabulous job at keeping the audience on their feet. Despite the cast having needed a bit of time to get into the swing of the play and some minor, entirely forgivable, prop glitches, the cast and production team did a great job at tackling what seemed to me quite a difficult theatrical adaptation.
First allow me to address the elephant in the room – the fact that there was an entirely naked actress on stage for a good 3 minutes of the production. When I heard about this daring move on the directors’ (Zephy Losey and Emily Fox) parts, I was quite worried that the scene would feel uncomfortable, out of place or even tacky. However, what I saw was a brave, rightfully shameless actress lead us through a tasteful and sensual scene which fit in nicely with the rest of the production. I couldn’t have envisioned a better way of addressing the sexual nature of the play – it certainly made the show stand out. The themes of sexual awakening, dysfunctional and hazardous relationships, alcoholism and promiscuity were all dealt with very tactfully, yet profoundly. As the show went on, the lead actors managed to reveal more dimensions to their characters, making them more human and tangible. Having said that, the audience was also allowed their fair share of laughs thanks to the witty exchanges between characters and farcical scenes which were brilliantly directed and executed.
Overall the cast worked great together and the actors managed to use the lines and blocking they were given well. Each character was an individual. Tania Chakraborti (Mrs. Braddock) made the audience laugh repeatedly throughout her performance. She embodied the stereotype of the mother hen and really gave her performance maximum energy making it really enjoyable. Another great performance was by Matt Lloyd (Mr. Robinson) who managed to channel a very rough, conventionally masculine character, whilst also being absolutely hilarious and dealing seamlessly with the prop glitches during the wedding scene. Ben Gruenberg (the stripper) came on stage with some exceptional choreography, really adding to the farce within the show. The stars of the production were undoubtedly Corinna Harrison playing Mrs Robinson and Matthew Davey (Benjamin Braddock). The duo carried the play through its entirety with their outstanding acting and chemistry, and managed to really convey the hazards of a relationship where one person is influenced, and even scarred by the attitudes of the other. The change in Benjamin when he was around Mrs Robinson as opposed to Elaine (Rosie Dart), was very evident which nicely showcased Matthew Davey’s skills as an actor. Corinna Harrison was captivating from her very first entrance till the final bow – she managed to dissect the character of Mrs. Robinson and act through every scene and every line. However, what did not convince me, was the relationship between Benjamin and Elaine; I thought that chemistry was lacking and there were some quite uncomfortable exchanges. I never really managed to grasp the character of Elaine – she stayed very much two dimensional in my eyes. Seeing as I myself have an American accent, I must say I didn’t feel quite at home with a lot of the actors’ accents; however, I do more than appreciate the fact that it is difficult to master an accent in a short period of time, yet often it just felt forced and sometimes negatively affected the acting.
I thought the directors managed to really take advantage of the space that Caedmon Hall offered, successfully incorporating stairs and extending the stage to two different levels, making scene changes flow smoothly and allowing the audience some variation in focus between scenes. The set was convincing and quite aesthetically pleasing – no aspect of the set pulled focus in a negative way. The door cutting the stage into two rooms at the wedding scene was, in my opinion, a great set device. It was creative and certainly left room for comic relief within a potentially heavy, emotionally charged scene. Small details on set like a painting, a wallet, some hangers really went a long way with polishing the play up. Mrs. Robinson’s smoking habit was a nice touch as the smoke looked beautiful and melancholy against the darkness of Caedmon Hall, highlighting the jaundiced and disillusioned character of Mrs Robinson. Furthermore, The music choice was flawless. Bearing in mind the aura of the 60s as well as the themes of the play itself, the music was uplifting when it needed to be and more emotive when the pace of the show slowed down. The lighting was also poignant and flowed very well alongside the production – each spotlight was hit beautifully. All action took place relatively close to the audience making the play more intimate and allowing us to be more invested and focused. It was clear that the venue worked wonderfully for the show.
Caedmon Hall was freezing and the weather was grim, but I’m really glad I took the time to journey down to Hild Bede and watch this heart-warming and funny story unravel before my eyes, in one of the most sexually daring performances I have seen in DST.