The Barn Theatre, Southwick Community Centre.
April 9, 10, 11 & 12, 2008.
by Terry Johnson
Guy Steddon – Benjamin
Tony Brownings – Dad
Natalie Colgate – Mom
Mark Best – Mr. Robinson
Gill Etter – Mrs. Robinson
Morgan Jones – Elaine
Rols Ham-Riche – Hotel Clerk, Barman, Psychiatrist, Priest
Helen Brewster – Stripper
Tom Harris – Drunk Wedding Guest
Tom Pearson – Drunk Wedding Guest
Stage Manager – Richard Bulling
Stage Manager – David Comber
Stage Manager – Tom Harris
Stage Manager – Tom Pearson
Deputy Stage Manager – Zara Spanton
ASM – Olive Smith
Lighting – Mike Medway
Sound Technician – Phillip Oliver
Properties – Margaret Davy
Properties – Sue Whittaker
Wardrobe – Cherry Briggs
Wardrobe – Margaret Pierce
Set Design – Judith Berrill
Set Design – Bob Ryder
Workshop Team – David Comber
Workshop Team – David Collis
Workshop Team – Richard Bulling
Workshop Team – Sue Chaplin
Workshop Team – Sheila Neesham
Workshop Team – Margaret Davy
Painter – Margaret Davy
Painter – Sue Chaplin
Painter – Sheila Neesham
Painter – Judith Berrill
Publicity – Rosemary Bouchy
Publicity – Rosemary Brown
Publicity – Anna Barden
Poster Design – Judith Berrill
Production Photos – Lucien Bouchy
Front of House – Betty Dawes
Box Office – The Barn Team Box Office Team
Programme Note #1: The Graduate
“The Graduate was the first novel written by Charles Webb, published in 1963, not long after his own college graduation. It was made into a hugely successful film in 1967, winning a host of Oscar nominations. The style of the novel is unusual, telling the reader nothing about what the characters think or feel, only what they say and do. It’s perfect material for a film screenplay – and in fact the film is remarkably close to the book. As well as for its great screen performances, the film is widely remembered for the witty direction of Mike Nichols, which won him an Oscar, and the atmospheric Simon and Garfunkel music used in the soundtrack.
Terry Johnson’s stage adaptation was first performed in 2000. It too draws closely on the novel, though with an eye to the different challenges of live stage performance compared with film. The play has enjoyed great success in the West End and on Broadway. It has only very recently become available for wider performance and we are delighted to be staging one of the first productions outside the professional theatre.”
Review #1: The Graduate
Publication: Shoreham Herald
Publication Data: Unknown
Reviewer: Sam Woodman
Text Header: Glorious balance
WICK Theatre Company’s diamond anniversary season got off to a steamy start at Southwick’s Barn Theatre, last week. The company presented one of the first non-professional productions of The Graduate, adapted for the stage from the Oscar-winning film by Terry Johnson.
The story centres around young Benjamin Braddock, played by Guy Steddon, spaced out by his success after graduating in a blaze of glory. Among the invited guests at a celebration hosted by his parents [Tony Brownings and Natalie Colgate] was the seductive Mrs. Robinson played by Gill Etter, who Benjamin soon fell for – before falling for her pretty daughter, Elaine [Morgan Jones].
But where to start?
Directed by Bob Ryder, the play was clever, poignant, laugh-out-loud funny and very, very good indeed – certainly one of Wick’s best productions of the last couple of years. The minimalist set, often comprising just a couple of items of furniture and blinds as a back-drop, was expertly employed, with Mike Medway’s lighting helping to transform the stage from bedroom, to hotel lobby, to hotel room, to church vestry. Accents can so often pose a stumbling block, yet not here – Guy Steddon’s was solid throughout and Gill Etter’s was faultless.
Perhaps not a show for the faint-hearted or easily offended, the more risqué moments were well handled and managed to be rude where the situation demanded, while managing to shock just enough without being out-right coarse – a clever balancing. The two lead players were well supported by the other cast members, and the performance went off without a hitch.
An hilarious script played out by a talented cast was a recipe for success and The Graduate certainly didn’t disappoint.
Wick’s season-opener was a resounding success, and has set the bar high for the rest of the year.
Review #2: The Graduate
Publication: Brighton Argus
Publication Data: Unknown
Reviewer: Barrie Jerram
Text Header: Unknown
Benjamin Braddock is 21, and is disillusioned with life and his family. At a party to celebrate his recent graduation he is seduced by the middle-aged and alcoholic Mrs. Robinson, the wife of his father’s best friend. Their passionate affair continues throughout the summer. When Elaine, the Robinson’s daughter, returns from college Ben is forced to date her and despite his best attempts to the contrary falls in love with her. This does not go down well with the mother and feathers fly. Ben stalks, woos and even kidnaps her at her wedding thus helping Elaine to break the bonds of parental control that have stopped her being her own person and making decisions.
As one has come to expect from Bob Ryder his direction was solid and well thought out. He was well supported by the technical team who provided a simple but effective all-purpose set that was sympathetically lit. The production moved at a good pace, with Bob Ryder managing to elicit several finely acted performances and two outstanding ones. As Ben’s parents Natalie Colgate and Tony Brownings played well together with some good comic touches with Colgate excelling in the scene in the psychiatrist’s office. Browning’s performance was probably the best I have seen from him. Mark Best’s contribution as Mr. Robinson was both funny and touching particularly on discovering the adulterous treachery of Ben with is wife. Morgan Jones played Elaine, capturing well the fragility and simplicity of the character. Rols Ham-Riche had a quartet of small parts that were well played with each being given its own character.
But it is with the two main rôles that the success of the play falls on.
As the predatory, controlling Mrs. Robinson, Gill Etter’s interpretation was spot on. In the seduction scene she was cold and distant – the character takes but does not give. Etter extracted fully the humour of the part as well as the bitterness and anger as the relationship with Ben turns sour. Her handling of the added scene with Elaine when they are both drunk was handled with sensitivity and did not go over the top. Guy Steddon continues to astound with his performances and as Ben he gave a masterly one. His interpretation was his own and owed nothing to the film. Watching him progress form confused, gauche and naive Ben – with morose and laconic mood swings via manic hysteria – to a form of maturity, as he becomes decisive and determined was a treasure chest of many comic gems.
Adapting this ’60s movie classic for the stage, Terry Johnson has returned to the original novel for extra scenes.
Whilst most worked the final scene is a bit of a damp squib compared to the film’s ending where the runaway couple are looking out of the back of the bus and wondering what the hell they were letting themselves in for. Sitting on a bed eating out of a box of Cherios lacked the dramatic impact.
Review #3: The Graduate
Publication: Words & Music
Publication Data: Unknown
Reviewer: Gordon Bull
Text Header: A brilliant production
Wick Theatre Company excelled itself with its brilliant production of The Graduate, adapted for the stage by Terry Johnson. The film was a great success but I would recommend anybody to see the version for the theatre. It’s even more witty!
In particular tribute must be paid to the lighting design by Mike Medway who produced an excellent scheme for handling the nude scene by using deep purple and silhouette so that Mrs. Robinson [Gill Etter] may or may not have been all she appeared, in order to seduce Ben – excellently cast and played by Guy Steddon. I liked his tête-à-têtes with girlfriend Elaine [Morgan Jones] as he tries to retain her affection after the brief fallen encounter with her mother and his confession to her father [Mark Best]. Both of the young couple made good sense of the interplay.
Instead of the film music, which used ‘Scarborough Fair’ incidental music was provided which nicely heightened the situation.
For a few moments at the wedding, the artful stripper [Helen Brewster] played a secondary rôle as a guest, while Elaine is almost persuaded to take the man chosen by her parents but as in all good stories Ben gets his girl in the end as they rush off together [in the film – from the church – in a coach – she still in white wedding dress].
The whole play was well devised by Bob Ryder and small parts were confidently taken by Rols Ham-Riche.
Review #4: The Graduate
Publication: Remote Goat – online
Publication Data: April 10 2008
Reviewer: Jill Lawrie
Text Header: “Brilliant, witty, seductive and challenging”
An excellent adaptation by Terry Johnson of the 1960’s film The Graduate was put on by the much acclaimed Wick Theatre Company at the Barn Southwick. This company was formed in 1948 and they put on four major productions a year ranging from Shakespeare ~ musicals etc. and cater for most peoples tastes.
The Barn Theatre is an excellent venue with impressive facilities and is much used by the local community. An attractive historic flint building completely refurbished bringing it up to a very high standard with seating for 130.
The action starts with a very minimalist set relying entirely on lighting effects and basically one piece of furniture per scene. This simplistic but effective backdrop thus allowed us to focus on the complexity of the characters.
Ben has graduated to much acclaim but seems unable to handle the excitement and celebrations of his proud parents aptly portrayed by Tony Brownings and Natalie Colgate. A friend of his parents Mrs Robinson, after rather too much to drink, stumbles into his room with a view to seducing the young lad. She is bravely portrayed by Gill Etter, in her first appearance with this company, baring all to some very subtle lighting effects. This leads to some very entertaining situations between the two of them, extremely well portrayed on the stage.
Eventually the ‘summer of fun’ is over and Ben exceptionally well played by Guy Steddon, is attracted to Mrs Robinson’s daughter Elaine, ably played by Morgan Jones, with many complications to follow.
I can highly recommend seeing this play, the actors were first class and in particular Guy for his whole spectrum of emotions from believable naivety, progressing to maturity, experience, vulnerability, anger and frustration. His whole manner and body language epitomised the ‘all American boy’ to perfection. Congratulations too for Gill with her range of emotions, brave nudity and drunkenness in what was an extremely challenging role.
All in all this worked very well, with seamless scene changes, good interactive relationships between the cast ~ a credit to the Director Bob Ryder.
Try and catch it before the end of the run on Saturday.
Comment #1: The Graduate
Publication: Amateur Stage
Publication Data: July 2008 issue – page 3
Section: Editor’s Foreword
We often feature Societies celebrating special anniversaries and this edition is no exception.
Wick Theatre Company celebrates its Diamond Jubilee this year and we have tied their story to another of their informative ‘Play Produced’ features, this time about the newly released play, The Graduate, adapted from the famous Dustin Hoffman film.
Comment #2: The Graduate
Publication: Amateur Stage
Publication Data: July 2008 issue – pages 10 – 13
Section: The Play Produced
Bob Ryder gives us an insight into this newly released comedy, which he directed for The Wick Theatre Company at The Barn, Southwick, West Sussex
Wick Theatre Company decided to produce The Graduate in April this year as a lively way to kick off its Diamond Anniversary Season. For most of those last sixty years the company’s regular performance venue has been the Barn Theatre in Southwick, on the Sussex coast near Brighton & Hove.
The Graduate is widely known in the form of an iconic film released in 1967, which won a host of Oscar nominations. The film is drawn from a novel by Charles Webb, published not long after his own college graduation. The style of the novel is unusual, telling the reader nothing about what the characters think or feel, only what they say and do. It’s perfect material for a film screenplay – and in fact the film is remarkably close to the book – but its style is also ripe for stage adaptation. Terry Johnson’s stage version was first performed in 2000 and it too draws closely on the novel, though with a keen eye to the different challenges and opportunities of live stage performance. The play enjoyed good commercial success in the West End and on Broadway. It was only released for a wider performance in late 2007, so we were pleased to be staging one of the first productions outside the professional theatre.
Johnson shrewdly concentrates the action down to an intimate level. For most of the play there are only two or three characters on stage at any one time. There are just a couple of slightly larger set-piece scenes – a ‘strip-joint bar’ scene near the end of the first half of the play and a ‘church vestry’ scene near the end of the second. [Incidentally we found that it was preferable to place the interval after Act 1 Scene 7, as this is a good ‘curtain’ point in the action and it avoids having too short a second half. This way the running time is about 60 minutes for the first half and 45 minutes for the second.]
The Wick production was presented on the Barn’s main proscenium arch stage, but the play could just as easily lend itself to studio style production. Indeed in many ways the play is ideally suited to a ‘little theatre’ format.
The West End and Broadway productions attracted some notoriety because of a brief nude appearance by the character of Mrs Robinson [played by a succession of ‘celeb’ actresses for added piquancy]. The fact that there is also some stylised fun and games in a hotel bedroom, plus a partial striptease in the bar scene, might give the impression that this is a steamy kind of play. That impression may be worth promoting to help sell tickets, but in fact it’s not how the play works once inside the theatre. Essentially this is a romantic comedy. A brief summary would be – mixed-up boy doesn’t know what to do with his life, is seduced into a soulless affair with an older woman, then falls madly in love with the woman’s daughter and pursues her obsessively until [against all the odds] boy gets girl and true love wins through.
For all the actors, the great pleasure of working on the play was in continually finding more and more comedy in the dialogue and the action. While some of the humour is quite obvious, a lot comes from the clever drawing of character and situation – and the subtler moments when the characters are funny even while suffering anguish and distress. Nobody could mistake this play for Chekhov, but there are certainly some parallels [the ‘laughter-through-tears’ principle] in how to find the human comedy in it. The comedy is also the perfect counterbalance to the various points in the play when sexuality is to the fore. The key example is when a naked Mrs Robinson surprises Benjamin in his bedroom – the scene is a fine balance between the frisson of her bare effrontery and the comedy of his paralysing embarrassment.
CASTING & REHEARSAL
The Graduate needs a core cast of seven – the three pairings of the young Benjamin and the young Elaine, Benjamin’s parents [the Robinsons] plus one actor who plays an interesting range of ‘authority’ figures [hotel clerk, barman, psychiatrist and priest]. A further two or three members of cast play small parts like a stripper, a drunk and wedding guest.
The large part is that of Benjamin, who is on-stage for all but a few pages at the start of the second half. It is a challenge for the actor to pitch the character right – awkward and neurotic, but likeable – without mimicking the very distinctive style for which Dustin Hoffman is widely remembered in the film version. In fact the film style would simply not work in the stage version, which calls for a stronger projection of character and more traditional comic technique. We used an experienced actor a few years older than the nominal ’21 next birthday’ in the text. As with the film casting [Dustin Hoffman was actually 29 at the time] this policy worked well – in practice a very young actor might find it harder to cope with the kind of comic demands the part makes.
Another key casting challenge is the part of Mrs Robinson. She is a cold, predatory character, swinging from seductive to vindictive. The audience need to enjoy the ‘bad’ aspects of her character, but there are also moments of vulnerability in the part when they should start to feel sympathy. Of course, the actress also needs to be confident enough to handle the brief nude scene and other bedroom action. We were doubtful whether many candidates would actually come forward for the part, but needn’t have worried – the director had a choice of six at the auditions, each of whom could have carried the rôle.
The fact that much of the stage action is constructed around just two or three characters in a scene has a certain practical advantage – rehearsal planning is relatively simple! We were able to rehearse the play comfortably over nine weeks, fitting in about 30 sessions between first read through and dress rehearsal.
SET & FITTINGS
Terry Johnson’s description of the settings gave us a helpful pointer. “The light beyond the windows of these rooms is bright and Californian, slamming through curtains or blinds, lending sharp contrast to the interiors.”
Our design was a very simple concept. We ran an arc of 7 foot high vertical blinds across the full width of the stage and beyond into the wings – a total width of 32 feet. This run of vertical blinds was only punctuated by two door-sized openings, upstage left and right. Six feet behind the blinds was a white cyclorama wall, from which we bounced colourful bright light [see next section]. Everything else about the stage was black – the floor, the flats and stage hangings in the wings and above the blinds; and all the moveable items of set. The overall effect was a big letter-box of light, giving an unusual ‘wide screen’ feel to the stage.
The use of furniture was kept to a bare minimum. Many of the scenes need a bed and ours was specially made on a ‘boat truck’ which could be easily spun around and moved between scenes. [It was dressed entirely with black bedding, in keeping with the overall design, which also helped to make the same item be accepted as a different bed in different scene locations.] We used another boat truck to provide a counter, serving both as a hotel reception desk and a bar; and another for the vestry door. Apart from those larger items, there was a small sofa, four chairs and a couple of bar tables.
Our staging made a virtue of having the door unit on a moving truck. In the climatic scene as the young couple flee the church, we had them running through the door from one direction, while the truck was still being moved, before the door unit was spun and braked into position for the remainder of the scene. The door itself needs to have a panel which can be smashed each performance when the enraged Mr Robinson attacks it with a large fire axe.
The many scene changes need to be executed quickly and cleanly. We used a stage management team of four [two of whom were acting ‘extras’] with cast members occasionally involved in moving smaller items. The changes were conducted in low silhouette colours or in short blackouts.
LIGHTING & SOUND
The design concept of the vertical blinds opened up some great opportunities for dramatic lighting. We used a lot of deep colour on the cyclorama wall, for which we had to hire six special LED units, which offer an enormous variety of bright hues. The colour bounced directly through the slits in the slightly-opened blinds, but also glowed through the pale fabric of the slats themselves. From the front, the slats were also sometimes picked out by lamps using contrasting colour to the back-light. The acting area was lit in a combination of amber and blue lamps, sometimes narrowed down to quite a small area, such as around the bed. However, a constant factor was the contrast of backlit colour from the ‘letter-box’ of the blinds.
There are only a few sound effects needed in the action, but the many scene changes need to be covered by well-chosen music. We avoided for the most part using the familiar Simon and Garfunkel sounds used in the film version of The Graduate, but instead had a lot of fun with clips from later recordings by Paul Simon. The selections we made had plenty of rhythmic pace and drive, with lyrics that underlined the action. The music was big and loud, and successfully helped us bridge the scenes without losing momentum.
COSTUMES & PROPS
Costume for this play is fairly straightforward. Our production didn’t attempt a specific 1960’s ‘look’, but care was still needed to establish the effect we wanted – a sense of middle-class America about a generation ago. A few specific points are worth bringing out. Benjamin is first seen in a diving suit and mask. Elaine appears at the end in a traditional wedding dress. And there are choices about the kind of ‘statement’ Mrs Robinson’s clothes – and underclothes – should make.
Another point about costumes in this show is the ease with which they can be put on and got off! There are unusual number of costumes manoeuvres which the actors have to be able to accomplish during the dialogue – for example, involving the diving suit and the wedding dress, as well as the more obvious bedroom dressings and un-dressings.
Props are fairly basic. One less usual item we chose to introduce was a long swimming-pool ‘leaf rake’, for use by Benjamin’s father in the one outdoor scene. None of our members can boast a swimming pool of their own, but we managed to find help from a more affluent household nearby!
The Graduate was an enjoyable play to undertake for cast and crew alike, because it offered some nice challenges and rewards. It was also popular at the box office and was extremely well received by audiences.
The factors which seemed to make the production successful were the emphasis on comedy, pace and confident style. It probably also helps to have a stage setting which is both striking and flexible enough to keep the action flowing. Our ‘vertical blinds’ design helped enormously in this respect. But it’s unlikely that Wick Theatre Company will be using 30 feet of blind again in the foreseeable future, so our workshop team will be pleased to sell them on!
Rightsholder : Samuel French Limited