Writer: Dan Gordon
Director: Jonathan O’Boyle
Reviewer: Alice Fowler
Everyone – of a certain age, at least – knows Rain Man, the Oscar-winning film starring Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman, in which two very different brothers bond on a journey across America. The story of Charlie and Raymond Babbitt – Charlie a skin-of-his-pants businessman, Raymond an autistic savant – unfolds at the wheel of a car. How then to bring this much-loved road trip to the stage?
There is plenty of talk of cars in director Jonathan O’Boyle’s staging of this inaugural production of the Classic Screen to Stage Company; the action, however, takes place largely in motel rooms. While this focuses attention on the relationship between the brothers, the sense of a real, horizon-broadening journey disappears.
That the production works is thanks to the talent and chemistry of its lead actors, Ed Speleers as salesman Charlie and Mathew Horne as Raymond. Horne, best known as Gavin in the TV comedy Gavin and Stacey, is superb as Raymond, depicting his verbal and facial tics while never descending into caricature. Raymond can reel off telephone directories and TV schedules at will, while shying from human touch. Horne portrays all this with sensitivity and humour.
Speleers, who starred as head-turning footman Jimmy Kent in Downtown Abbey, makes his stage debut in this production. He too convinces as the hard-talking Charlie who, almost despite himself, grows to love the brother he never knew he had. There are scenes of real intimacy as Charlie realises that this is his imaginary childhood friend, ‘Rain Man’; and, later, as he teaches Raymond how to dance.
At the heart of the play is money. Charlie, teetering on the edge of bankruptcy, is shocked to find that his rich, autocratic father has left him almost nothing. Instead, his wealth has gone to the son he has always shunned: Raymond, who has spent a quarter century shut up in an institution. Charlie’s motives in ‘freeing’ Raymond are far from altruistic: he wants his share of the cash. Along the way he, and we, are reminded that some things count more than money.
What of the doctors, who have kept Raymond shut away for so long, and now fight to have him back? Who really has Raymond’s best interests at heart? Such questions, relevant now as much as then, are explored to a pulsating 80s soundtrack. This is stimulating and entertaining theatre. Just don’t expect it to be exactly like the movie.
Runs until 27 October 2018 | Image: Robert Day