Rain Man – Royal & Derngate Theatre, Northampton

Writer: Dan Gordon

Director: Jonathan O’Boyle

Reviewer: James Garrington

Many people will remember the 1988 movie Rain Man with affection – starring Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise, the film won several Academy Awards and has entered into popular culture as one of the classics. The film has now made its way onto the stage, thanks to the Classic Screen To Stage Theatre Company and a stage script by Dan Gordon.

Charlie Babbitt (Ed Speleers) is a car salesman dealing in expensive high-end vehicles. When a deal starts to go wrong he finds himself in need of cash to keep the business afloat – then he discovers that his estranged father has died. He finds that almost all of his father’s $3 million estate has been left to the brother that Charlie didn’t realise he had – a brother who is an autistic savant and who is living in an institution. Determined to get his share, Charlie removes his brother Raymond (Mathew Horne) from the institution to use as a bargaining chip for half of the money and learns a lot about himself in the process.

This adaptation can never hope to compare with the possibilities offered by being able to film a road trip across the vast spaces of the United States but taken as a play in its own right it is a very enjoyable and often touching piece of theatre. Speelers plays Charlie as a jack-the-lad down on his luck at first, which makes his emotional journey a little disjointed. He goes from apparent lovable rogue to self-centred and ruthless money-grabber with more than a streak of spite in a way that doesn’t quite ring true, and likewise his relationship with his brother seems to develop in big steps rather than being a gradual process – one of the challenges of trying to condense the storyline into a play. Nevertheless, the chemistry that develops between Speleers and Mathew Horne as Raymond is often quite touching.

Horne does a fine job as Raymond, the man with a genius for numbers but who hates being taken out of his small comfort zone. His walk, speech and mannerisms all hit the mark, and he comes across as a person who you genuinely want to care about. As he develops some glimmers of empathy towards his brother, the warmth of their increasing relationship becomes apparent and is sometimes fairly moving. There are good performances too from Elizabeth Carter as Charlie’s girlfriend Susan, and Neil Roberts as Dr Bruener, the man who has been caring for Raymond in the institution.

The set by Morgan Large creates possibilities with some nice multi-purpose illuminated rectangles creating a flexible backdrop, but the addition of a number large and heavy pieces of furniture makes for clunky scene changes with blackouts that feel a little too long, interrupting the flow of the storyline.

Attitudes and awareness of this sort of condition have changed a lot over the 30 years since the character first appeared, so Raymond is perhaps seen in a different light these days. Who cares most about Raymond and his well-being, and who is best placed to care for him? Is the institution the best place for him to stay or would he be better off with Charlie? Questions like this were not always asked in the 1980s, but they are ones that it is difficult to ignore today.

Despite a somewhat ambiguous and unsatisfactory ending, this is an engrossing and touching piece and worth catching while it’s on tour.

Runs Until 24 November 2018 and on tour  | 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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