first night

The Graduate

Josie Williams enjoys an evening in America with HBT's 'The Graduate'.

Upon entering Caedmon Hall for HBT’s production of The Graduate, I was intrigued to see it laid out in a way I’d never previously seen, with both the stage and audience on the same level. This worked well with the hyper-naturalistic set and, although actors were blocked from my view during some moments, there were only a few sightline issues, which were ultimately worth it given the intimacy created by the whole set up. This problem was also minimised by having the back half of the audience on a raised platform.

The set was fantastic from the outset, and it only grew more and more impressive as the show progressed. The amazingly slick stage crew transformed the small stage from Benjamin’s bedroom—complete with a wardrobe and double bed—to everything else, from a bar to a church. An inevitable side effect of this was that scene changes were slightly longer than would normally be desirable, but again this was worth it for the immersive naturalism of the set.

On the whole, the cast were fantastic. Strong performances came from even the smallest of parts—with convincing accents all round—and the humour of the script was well brought out. A slight tendency to overact admittedly led to some weaker moments from almost every actor, but these were few and far between, and it didn’t stop them from being an excellent ensemble cast overall. In terms of individual performances, all three of the central characters must be mentioned. Matthew Davey’s sharp comic delivery combined with the subtlety of his character development made him a perfect Benjamin, but the girls were never going to sit quietly and let him steal the show. Corinna Harrison, playing Mrs Robinson, gave a skilled and complex performance, bringing us from pitying her to hating her without quite knowing when we switched. Credit must also go to her for having the courage to appear on stage in nothing but heels. She seemed so comfortable that it put the audience at comfort, making the whole scene feel totally natural. But for me it was Rosie Dart as Elaine who, despite having less stage time than the others, gave the performance of the night. With her subtle characterisation, engaging delivery and an accent so well executed that I’m still unsure if she is actually American, this fresher is definitely one to watch in DST. The scene between the two women was probably my favourite of the whole show.

Despite loving the production as a whole, I did struggle with one particular element, namely the balance between the humorous and more emotional moments of the play. The biggest example of this fell during a climactic scene near the end, in which the audience were in stitches from the action on one side of the stage. However, unfortunately it distracted us from an important exchange that was taking place on the other. While I appreciate that some of the humour was unintentional and came from first night slip-ups, I still felt that the comedy was overplayed, which sadly made the scene less impactful than it could have been. The slight confusion of tone in this scene, as well as others, also made the actors’ jobs more difficult in terms of how to play certain moments, which may have led to the aforementioned occasional overacting.

However, this particular gripe was only a small issue for me and it didn’t stop The Graduate being a hugely enjoyable show. It was well acted, well directed and the set and costumes are fantastic. With all this considered, I would thoroughly recommend seeing it for yourself.

10 November 2016

The views expressed in the reviews and comments on this page are those of the reviewer, and are not representative of the views of DST or Durham University.
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