REVIEW: The Graduate, ACE Centre, Nelson

The cast of Garrick's "The Graduate"
The cast of Garrick's "The Graduate"

Director Lesley Jackson has managed to fit a quart into a pint pot with little froth and no loss of quality.

No mean feat – and presumably the result of sheer inspiration along with hours and hours of thought and hard work.

Whatever the reason, this talented local director has taken a brilliant 1960s film that is funny, poignant and thought provoking and transported it, seemingly effortlessly, to the ACE Centre stage in Nelson.

And the resulting production is a triumph for the whole Garrick Theatre team. Perfect casting, wonderful music and creative staging are bringing alive the story of “The Graduate” for theatregoers this week.

When you take an iconic story with an iconic cast such as Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft and bring it down to amateur level there is a real danger of a great spectacle being dumbed down.

So I was looking forward to seeing if one of my all-time favourite films still hit the mark after its adaptation for the stage when I went along on Wednesday’s opening night. But from the second the lights went down and Simon and Garfunkel’s classic “Sounds of Silence” filled the auditorium I was hooked. The slick, funny opening scene literally set the scene and you knew The Garrick had a winner on its hands.

Because take away the fantastic directing and brilliant background music from the likes of the Mamas and the Papas, the Bee Gees - plus of course the “Mrs Robinson” theme - and a production is nothing without its cast. And what a cast. The Dustin Hoffman role of young Benjamin Braddock, the gauche, naive college graduate who is about to be seduced by the cougar that is Mrs Robinson, is played wonderfully - word and action perfectly - by James Bateman. He was on stage for most of the play but never once did he go out of character even when just watching the chaos unfold around him. His mannerisms and humour so entertaining to watch he was captivating and endearing.

Then we meet the fantastic Mrs Robinson, with Viv Thornber taking the role so brilliantly played by Anne Bancroft in the film. Viv need have no fear that she could not do justice to this iconic role because she did, and more. She made it her own, nothing rushed, a fantastic portrayal of the glamorous, sexy, yet deeply unhappy and bitter older woman who sets out to snare young Benjamin. Leaving no holds barred she bares as much as she has to and, while having an underlying sadness, this story has much humour and the under-the-covers sex scenes are hilarious – especially set to the Bee Gees “Good Vibrations”.

There is a lot of experience in this cast and it shows with Steve Cooke and Lynne Atkinson getting it just right as Benjamin’s parents and David Norris an excellent Mr Robinson. Jennifer Abraham quickly gets into her role as the Robinson’s daughter Elaine and all the smaller but important parts are played by Marilyn Jones, Martin Chadwick, Lauren Stirzaker, Dave Robinson and Anthony Matthews.

Written in an era when sex, relationships and young people striving to come to terms with their own feelings and place in the world, were being openly talked about for the first time, it still seems fresh and pertinent in 2015.

Young Benjamin frees himself from the claws of Mrs Robinson and finds himself in the arms of his real love, her daughter. But not before we had been amused and entertained and listened to the brilliant 60s music.

The Garrick - The Graduate - a winnning combination, continues until Saturday night.