Writer: Dan Gordon
Director: Jonathan O Boyle
Reviewer: Matt Forrest
Back in 1988 Barry Levinson directed the hugely commercial and critically successful film Rain Man. The film was a vehicle for Hollywood heavyweights Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise. It was the highest grossing film of 1988 and bagged four Academy awards. However, more importantly, it managed to bring autism to the forefront of the public conscience and increased awareness and understanding of the condition. This current revival presented by Bill Kenwright’s The Classic Screen to Stage Theatre Company comes with mixed results.
Remaining faithful to the screenplay, we are introduced to a self-absorbed car salesman and hustler Charlie Babbit (Chris Fountain) who learns of his estranged father’s death reacts with no emotion whatsoever. Charlie and his fiancé Susan (Elizabeth Carter) head to Ohio to settle his father’s estate, however, it is here that Charlie finds he has been left nothing from the $ 3 million inheritance. All he has been left is a rose bush and a car. The money has been left to a medical facility which houses his elder brother Raymond, (Adam Lilley) whom Charlie had no prior knowledge of.
Raymond has savant syndrome; a condition that requires routine and leaves Raymond emotionally distant except when upset. In a bid to get his hands on some of his late Father’s wealth Charlie takes Raymond from the hospital and on a journey that will change both brothers forever and surely not what Charlie initially intended.
The two leads are excellent, the chemistry between Fountain and Lilley as the mismatched siblings is outstanding: Fountain is on superb form as the self-centred, foul-mouthed yet charismatic Charlie. Despite his flaws and the fact that initially, he is quite loathsome, you really are bowled over by his charm. Equally impressive is Lilley who has the tough task of not just bringing Raymond to life and filling the huge stage at the Lowry, but doing so in a manner that is sensitive, believable and respectful, without being a caricature: it’s a tightrope, but Lilley navigates it superbly. The scenes between the two in Las Vegas and back at the hospital are quite moving and beautifully acted. The supporting cast are fine and do a great job, especially Carter who brings warmth and tenderness to Susan.
The production plays to its 1980’s setting using a fantastic soundtrack that includes AC/DC and Cyndi Lauper, whilst poking fun at the excess of the era: huge mobile phone and handheld portable televisions, it’s all done to give the play that warm, nostalgic feel which works well. However, the 1980’s also massively works against the production, the tone of the script feels wrong and is at times borderline offensive. There are scenes which mock Raymond’s disability and use of the word ‘retard’ is done for comic effect. Seemingly society has come a long way with disability awareness but based on this production, not far enough. The use of a racial or homophobic slur would be quite rightly lambasted whereas the use of this particular word is seemingly done for laughs and judging by some audience reaction this evening is perfectly acceptable, which quite frankly it isn’t. One feels the script drastically needs an update to reflect the times we live in now. I’m fully aware that language was a little different back then, but the use of such terms for comedic purpose do nothing but further enhance stereotypes and prejudice.
It would be worth going to this production for the strong performances alone, and the nostalgic element certainly gives it that feel good factor, however, there are some elements that do taint its heartfelt message and leave a somewhat sour aftertaste.
Runs until 16 March 2019 | Image: Lloyd Evans