“What a fine persecution - to be kept intrigued without ever quite being enlightened.”
- Tom Stoppard
And so to the theatre. The stage version of 'The Graduate' is best known for providing famous, middle-aged actresses with a chance to show that they're still worth looking at, but it also captured the interest in a number of other ways. It featured the second actor in a wetsuit in a fortnight, this time somewhat more relevantly; Benjamin's mental floundering is being underlined by a visual 'out of his depth' metaphor. There was also what I'm pretty sure was the first time I've ever seen a door being smashed down with an axe live on stage, and very enjoyable it was too. Last, but by no means least, was the vigorous tassle twirling of professional burlesque artiste Elsie Diamond; I think one knows where one is with someone who chooses the stage name 'Elsie'. In any event the programme observed that if one didn't like the character of Benjamin then one wouldn't 'get on' with the Graduate; I didn't and , by and large, I didn't. Elaine - who gets more of the story on stage compared to the film - did make one philosophical statement that appealed to me as a Stoic: "If you allow yourself to have dessert every time you see a little pig," she said "then you will see a lot more little pigs and eat a lot more dessert". Wise words.
I'm always happy to see any play by Alan Ayckbourn because one is guaranteed at least half a dozen good laughs and 'Sisterly Feelings' was no exception. I have long held the theory that a successful farce will involve sardines, and sure enough they pop up here, as does the slightly creepy concept of stalking someone leading to a positive 'happy ever after' result, a trope it shares with 'The Graduate'. As this happened in the second half its occurrence was apparently determined by an on-stage coin toss in the first half, Ayckbourn having written two alternate conclusions to the piece. Whilst this is an intriguing idea, it strikes me as essentially pointless because most people are only going to see it once. It would be particularly galling to choose to see it a second time to catch the alternate ending (which hopefully shows stalking to result in imprisonment) only to find that the coin landed heads twice in a row and one had to sit through the same thing again.
Of course dozens of heads in row are the result of a coin being repeatedly tossed in the opening scene of 'Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead', Tom Stoppard's youthful masterpiece. I have been to see the live streaming of the Old Vic production starring Daniel Radcliffe and Joshua McGuire. It is possible that many of those in the screening that I went to came along attracted by the former's previous role as a boy wizard rather than by Stoppard's absurdist wordplay or his existential examination of the limitations of man's real freedom of action in the light of his inevitable demise, and nor perhaps were they aware of the need to have some familiarity with 'Hamlet' in order to make head or tail of it all. For whatever reason there were many fewer of them after the interval. It rather put me in mind of when I saw Ross Kemp give his Petruchio, although on that occasion Dutch courage allowed most of the soap fans to stick with the blank verse all the way through. In this case the show was rather stolen by David Haig as the Player, but it was all, as one would expect, excellent.