How is it being seduced by Glynis Barber? Would you have preferred Jerry Hall? It's a question that confronts any actor taking on the mantle of Benjamin Braddock, the young man just out of college who becomes entangled in a love-triangle with an older family friend, Mrs Robinson, and her daughter, Elaine. The actor Andres Williams is the latest to play Benjamin in the West End play of the The Graduate, now to tour around the country, opposite Barber's Mrs Robinson.
There have been many stage Mrs Robinson's since the original 1967 film starring Anne Bancroft as the older woman who seduces Dustin Hoffman's Benjamin. "I remember the director telling me not to watch the film again," says Williams.
Terry Johnson's stage version of The Graduate opened in the West End in April 2000. Williams was the understudy when Jerry Hall played Mrs Robinson. "The other Benjamin was never ill and so I could have been disappointed, but I now feel I've made up for it." When Williams finally got the role, he had two runs of four months each in the West End, with a fast Mrs Robinson changeover. "During the days, I was rehearsing with Anne Archer, and I was doing the show with Amanda Donohoe at night. It kept me on my feet. Every Mrs Robinson has her own interpretation and I had to adapt."
After a two-year break from Benjamin, Williams returns opposite Barber, star of the Eighties TV series Dempsey and Makepeace. "I remember rushing back from school to watch it," says Williams. Benjamin is always a great part to play. "He is confused - he's immature." It is also a large part. "I'm only offstage for one scene - for five minutes - when I rush backstage for a costume change - sweating profusely and losing lots of weight."
The set, although made smaller for touring, is much the same as in previous productions. The stage is surrounded by louvered doors recalling the film poster's image of Dustin Hoffman looking at Anne Bancroft's leg in the film version. But the play opens with Benjamin sitting on his bed wearing a snorkel, mask, flippers, and wet suit. Downstairs his parents are celebrating his graduation party. "In the film he is given a sports car for his graduation present - and a diving suit for his birthday. But in the play - he gets the diving suit for the graduation. It's very funny. They want him to come downstairs dressed in it to show all the guests." Poor Benjamin.
But it is the music that imparts a Californian mood. The Graduate would not be complete without a Simon and Garfunkel track or two, alongside other music from the Sixties. "There's one bit where Benjamin goes off exploring. He doesn't know what to do. He goes off for a drive down a Californian road, projected on the stage, while playing that song 'Everybody's Talking At Me'."
'The Graduate' opens on 27 August at the Arts Theatre, Cambridge; then Theatre Royal, Newcastle, 8 Sept, King's Theatre, Glasgow, 15 Sept; Theatre Royal, Bath, 22 SeptReuse content