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The Graduate review at West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds – ‘smart and satirical’

Catherine McCormack in The Graduate at West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds. Photo: Manuel Harlan Catherine McCormack in The Graduate at West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds. Photo: Manuel Harlan
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The Graduate has graduated. It’s about time a woman director grabbed hold of Terry Johnson’s stage adaptation and shook something more satirically and sexually relevant from it.

Based on the novel by Charles Webb and the 1968 film, it concerns Mrs Robinson’s seduction of young middle class rebel without a cause, Benjamin Braddock.

Despite introducing video and sound sequences to highlight Benjamin’s repressed fantasy life, Lucy Bailey’s insightful new, superbly played production can’t disguise the annoying cuteness that permeates Johnson’s script, especially its cheery ending.

But just before that iconic scene in which the older woman beds the young boy, there’s a clue to what’s about to come when Jack Monaghan’s delightfully dim Benjamin tells his father that he won’t join the graduation day guests because: “Those people down there are grotesque… I’m grotesque – we’re all grotesque.”

Mike Britton has created a setting dominated by a double bed that’s all swishy net curtains and minimal 1960s chic to provide a sort of smart camouflage for the plastic-coated social strata that Benjamin attempts to resist in favour of what he calls “ordinary people who don’t have big houses”.

There’s startling grotesquery too in Catherine McCormack’s brave unzipping of Mrs Robinson as a deeply unhappy lascivious alcoholic, rancid with destructive booze and nicotine, a living picture of a privileged but un-liberated 1960s woman. Seducing Benjamin is the only power she has left. By contrast, her betrayed daughter Elaine – a gutsy Emma Curtis – is the only character to graduate with honour.

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A smart revival with a satirical edge and a brave performance by Catherine McCormack