The Graduate/Malvern Theatres

THOSE of us of a certain age who saw the milestone film based on Charles Webb’s epic coming-of-age tale will undoubtedly have their favourite scene or perhaps a song from one of the 1960s best-loved soundtracks.

For me, the lilting, melancholy-tinged melodies of Simon and Garfunkel’s evergreen tunes that finally explode into life as Benjamin and Elaine head off into the sunset are truly memorable.

And few of us will ever forget the moment as the lovers ride off into the future, buoyed by the Bo Diddley-esque guitar chords that announce the film version of the magnificent and now legendary Mrs Robinson track.

It’s such a pity then that this play is hamstrung by a blaring and emotionally arid big band-style intro that is more 1953 than 1963, more Victor Sylvester than Bobby Rydell.

So where’s Sam Cook and Bob Dylan, just two of the names that personify the era of Kennedy, the Cuban missile crisis and the civil rights marches on Washington? Gone long time passing, it would seem.

Bizarrely, the fade-out piece is Ry Cooder’s achingly beautiful slide guitar interpretation of Dark End of the Street, presumably because it’s the ultimate cheating song. But there again, this just could be pure coincidence.

Nevertheless, Catherine McCormack is perfect as the predatory Mrs R, a cunning cougar who appears to exist on a diet of cigarettes, bourbon and wall-to-wall sex.

But now we get to the bit where the story doesn’t travel all that well down this long road of 50 years, because Benjamin’s journey from innocent abroad to seasoned bedroom athlete sits strangely in a modern world that waved goodbye to prudery a long time ago and now basically cannot be shocked.

Thankfully, Jack Monaghan resists the temptation to reprise Dustin Hoffman’s nervous stuttering and throat-clearing paralysis in the wonderful hotel foyer scene, but unfortunately its absence reminds us of just how much we liked it at the time.

This also begs the question now – as it did way back then – whether or not a hormonally-marinaded young man such as Benjamin would really be so backward in coming forwards with such a blatant vamp who makes no bones about her intentions.

However, the actors’ depictions of parents-as-control freaks certainly ring a few bells and the portrayals of mothers and fathers equipped with little understanding of their children is at times painfully spot-on.

Both the Braddock and Robinson families are driven by the same American Dream hypocrisies, smug certainties and unshakeable self-regard that was opposed and rejected with such vigour by the young of that era.

All the same, Benjamin is really a wimp at heart. And in any event, would he really fall for the terminally drab Elaine, a know-nothing Miss Prim who is about as sexually alluring as a month-old cheese and pickled onion bap?

That said, Emma Curtis is magnificent as the tedious little hissy fit prissy thing… so would Benjamin really fancy someone like that after daily being taken to the brink of erotic insanity during months of frolics with her mum? Hardly.

The basic flaw with this otherwise charming archive piece is, however, mainly the change in public perceptions that have occurred in the western world over the last half-century.

This notion of decent young men sowing their wild oats with tarts but then inevitably hitching themselves up for life with ‘a nice girl’ just seems to be quaintly outdated these days.

And tellingly, people I spoke to of my generation – and especially those who had seen the film at the time – felt much the same. Younger newcomers viewing it for the first time were a lot more varied in their thoughts.

But for all that, The Graduate has some magical moments, and is still worth a look for those of us who feel the need to view a period classic. It runs until Saturday (June 17).

John Phillpott