Review: The Graduate by Theatre Group ★★★☆☆

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The Graduate tells the story of Ben, an unsuspecting and conflicted 20-year-old university graduate, who finds himself caught up in a particularly unenviable love triangle with raging alcoholic Mrs Robinson and her daughter Elaine.

The play, based on a novel by Charles Webb and screenplay by Calder Willingham and Buck Henry, is an easy enough story to lose yourself in. Exagerrated drama and a steady stream of humour keep the play fresh throughout. Each character brings something different to the table – the dry, worldly-wise humour of the bitter Mrs Robinson is contrasted against the more slapstick comedy of her husband. Spending a large chunk of the play out of his depth and ever-so-slightly desperate, the character of Ben adds yet another dimension to the piece. As is often the case with comedy, the devil is in the detail and the actors’ delivery often turned a mediocre joke into a good one.

The performance gained in momentum throughout, something which was in no small part down to the energy of the cast. The pace was threatened (although ultimately not damaged) by the frustrating and unnecessary number of blackouts, something which I’ve always found to be one of the most noticeable differences between amateur and professional theatre. It is neither necessary nor particularly advisable to regularly plunge a paying audience into the dark whilst scenery is carted around on stage. Some transitions were a little sharp, but in fairness many were also spot-on.

Theatre Group are mounting the show without the assistance of StageSoc and I have to admit that this did show. Despite the very best efforts of the production team, there were several problems with the set, the most notable being that the scenery just wasn’t properly secured. This was most noticeable in the incredibly flimsy set of ‘walls’ which shook every time a door was opened or closed (let alone slammed). Teching a show is far from being an easy feat and this was a valliant effort. That said, it would be lying to say that The Graduate was up to the usual standard of a PA show in this regard.

Throughout the play, the actors were almost never at fault but in places the direction could (and perhaps should) have been sharper. It is absolutely the responsibility of a director to know their performance venue inside out and The Graduate did occasionally leave me doubting whether theirs did. Knocking down a door on the right hand side of the stage, for example, not only exposed the actors’ access point but also gave the audience a view of props stashed off-stage in what was, at that moment, supposed to be a church. The play was promising in so many ways but a keener eye for detail could really have taken things to the next level.

As I have already stressed, the standard of acting on display in The Graduate was one of the play’s real strenghths. Featuring many proven Theatre Group veterans, the casting is pretty much perfect across the board. Comic pieces often cover a multitude of sins and the occasional small opening night blunder with a line or a stage direction added to the fun with no serious harm being done. No role in the piece is too small to count, something demonstrated wonderfully (but not exclusively) by Sarah Divall and Nick Barclay’s hilarious but brief turn as a pair of hotel receptionists. The three leads – James Forster, Lucy Hughes and Ellie Blacklock (Ben, Mrs Robinson and Elaine, respectively) – are undoubtedly the stars of the show. Each proves worthy of their casting at every opportunity and their interactions with one another are a joy to watch.

The Graduate is funny, well-acted and entertaining but could be improved with some more polished tech work and closer attention to detail. A slightly unpolished show with a great deal of potential, I do not believe that audience members that head down to The Annex this week will regret their decision.

The Graduate runs until Saturday 14th December at The Annex theatre. Performances are at 7:30 each night with a 2:30 matinee on Saturday. Tickets are available via the SUSU box office or on the door.

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2 Comments

  1. avatar

    I’m unsure how you can eulogise (correctly) the acting throughout the performance, yet only rate the play 3/5 stars seemingly based on minor technical errors? As you’ve said, StageSoc weren’t involved, so I would argue the technical competence of the play should have slightly less gravitas on the overall score than normal, surely!? From an unbiased viewer’s perspective (c’est moi), the strength of the acting was substantial enough to partially disregard such misdemeanours, and relative to similar university-standard performances, deserves the play a higher rating! Other than that, good review!

  2. avatar

    Hi Fareed, thank you for your comment. I understand your point but for me these weren’t small technical points but basics which should have been right. If these things aren’t solid, no reviewer is likely to give five stars. In my particular case, I usually reserve 5-star reviews for truly outstanding pieces of theatre which remain in my mind long afterwards for whatever reason. There are very few of these pieces out there – in the time I’ve reviewed theatre for The Edge, I’ve only ever given one 10/10 review to a professional production and a small handful of 5-star reviews to others.

    This begs the question of why I gave three stars and not four, and I’ll admit it was a close call. Ultimately, I suppose it came down to the fact that, for me personally, the tech and conception of the piece were frustrating enough to take it down another band. Saying that StageSoc weren’t there is not a get-out-of-jail-free card. If the decision was taken to mount the show without them and to invite a paying audience to see it, then a bar is set. In addition, the mistakes of dialogue and direction were funny and well-covered, but at the end of the day they were still there when they shouldn’t have been.

    This is turning into War and Peace so I’ll just finish by saying that sometimes reviewing isn’t easy and on these occasions the only way to do it is just to go with my gut instinct whilst the play is fresh in my mind.

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