Friday, 19 May 2017

The Graduate

Catherine McCormack carries off the classic cougar role, despite the distractions of the wayward plot

Written by Georgina Brown
Ladies may recall the rumpus when the gorgeous, mature sex-bomb Kathleen Turner came to London in 2000 to bare all as Mrs Robinson in Terry Johnson’s stage adaptation of The Graduate. It wasn’t the critics that got overheated but the gossip columnists – and punters. The box office went berserk, although nothing compared to a few months later, when Jerry Hall took over and revealed that she had a fabulous body but wasn’t much of an actress. Georgina-Brown-colour-176

Maybe people are less childish or prurient up north, for the news that Catherine McCormack, best known for Braveheart, was stepping in to the role in a new production staged by Lucy Bailey in Leeds, caused not a ripple.

McCormack is, in my opinion, a seriously underrated actress. And she is exceptionally good as the miserable middle-aged alcoholic, Mrs Robinson, set on seducing the timid teenage Benjamin, son of her old friends.

Both poisonous and pitiable, her spirit soured by bourbon and boredom, she puts Benjamin through his paces every afternoon in a hotel in a desperate attempt to anaesthetise her unhappiness.

Designer Mike Britton gives the setting a terrific Sixties authenticity, which helps establish Mrs Robinson as a victim of the time and her class. Trapped in a loveless marriage to Mr Robinson, excellent Richard Clothier, she’s a cold, slick, silver fox, with nothing to do once she has taken a dip in her private pool but smoke and drink and meddle.

The scene in which she strips to her knickers and sways squiffily towards Benjamin Braddock’s bed is superbly done, the comic timing impeccable. ‘Do you find me desirable?’ she asks Benjamin. ‘Mrs Robinson, you are the most attractive of my parents’ friends,’ replies Jack Monaghan’s hilariously gauche, tactless Benjamin.

Video images of skin on skin and luscious lips suggest the boy’s fantasies. The costumes are very Jackie O, with Mrs Robinson’s disheveled hair a subtle hint that something is awry.

It’s when Johnson departs too far from the movie and abandons all emotional truth that the play falters. There is a terrible scene in which Mrs Robinson and her daughter, Elaine, with whom Benjamin has become inexplicably obsessed, get drunk. The character of Benjamin becomes increasingly absurd and dislikable. Instead of being outraged at Benjamin dragging Elaine from her wedding day, Mrs R urges Elaine to choose him and live a little, an utterly inconceivable notion. Bailey’s polished production can’t overcome the play’s wayward plot, but it’s well staged and a fine vehicle for McCormack’s talent.

West Yorkshire Playhouse (0113-213 7700) to 27 May. Curve, Leicester (0116-242 3595), 30 May-10 June. Malvern Theatres (01684-892277) 13-17 June. New Theatre, Cardiff (029-2087 8889), 20-24 June.

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