Rain Man – Derby Theatre

Writer: Dan Gordon

Director: Jonathan O’Boyle

Reviewer: Andrew Houghton

Beloved 80’s classic Rain Man is thrilling audiences on its current theatrical tour and while the production provides an entertaining introduction to those unfamiliar with the tale, it is clear that fans of the original film starring Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman are the true target audience of this piece.

Instantly recognisable 80’s music hits prelude each act, teasing the audience into an evening of nostalgia as they gear up for what should be a guaranteed hit. However, this atmosphere cannot fully conceal the somewhat outdated material and as such not every joke sits right with a modern audience.

The play follows selfish salesman Charlie Babbitt as a typical business day is interrupted by the news of his father’s passing. Having cut ties with his less-than-warm father years ago, Charlie appears unaffected by the news though his attention is piqued by the considerable inheritance he is due. Therefore he is frustrated to discover that his father’s entire estate has been left to an ‘unnamed trustee’, soon to be revealed as the institution which cares for Raymond, an autistic older brother Charlie has no memory of.

Upon realising that Raymond has no sense of monetary value, Charlie removes him from his voluntary residence at the institution, thinly-veiling his intentions to bargain for an equal share of the inheritance as a ‘bonding’ trip with his newfound brother. Raymond’s need for care and support, however, is not something that the self-centred Charlie is prepared for, and so begins a journey neither brother was expecting.

With a plot that spans so many locations, full scene changes could become too frequent and tedious, yet the adaptable set design is intelligent and allows for smooth and succinct transitions. A multi-purpose geometric grid residing permanently upstage uses lights to form simple base structures such as windows and doors, which are then complemented by minimal set pieces to create locations which may be more representative than realistic, but certainly get the job done.

Mathew Horne gives an engaging and memorable performance as Raymond and one that is fully established both physically and vocally. This rôle may not be particularly well-suited to the stage, however, as the level of nuance which made Hoffman’s original portrayal so honest would struggle to translate in a large auditorium. Logistically, a slightly more heightened performance is demanded for a stage audience but with this comes the absence of certain subtleties. As a result, Horne’s eccentric performance does risk straying into the realm of caricature and births an uncertainty of how much is being played for laughs.

This is not to say that Horne’s performance lacks depth. Alongside Ed Speleers as Charlie, the two actors beautifully execute many of the more tender moments between the brothers, emanating a genuine and heartfelt connection. A prominent example is Charlie’s teaching of Raymond how to dance:  it signifies a clear softening in Charlie’s demeanour and showcases a truly heart-warming sign of trust from Raymond who struggles with physical connection.

Runs Until 17 November 2018  | Image: Robert Day

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The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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