By Mel Lynch
Bringing the highest grossing film of 1988 to the stage is no easy job, but with the direction of Jonathon O’Boyle it was managed pretty fantastically. In 1988, Hoffman and Cruise’s iconic portrayal of the Babbitt brothers, earned the film four Oscars, including the esteemed honour of best actor in a leading role. Therefore, going into the theatre I was intrigued to see how Rain Man would translate to the medium of live theatre. I was even more interested, if somewhat apprehensive, to see how the portrayal of mental disability would be undertaken three decades on.
Upon hearing that Matthew Horne would be playing autistic Raymond, my initial thoughts were turned to the debate of the ethics of casting disabled characters. Traditionally, instead of casting those with said disability, there has always been overwhelming numbers of able-bodied/ able-minded actors chosen to portray disabled characters. However, Horne did a truly excellent job. He gave a sensitive yet humorous performance, putting his own spin on a beloved character. His delivery proved that a disability, often perceived as causing a complete lack of social understanding, can also be a likable and identifiable character for the whole audience. In his theatre debut Speleers’ also holds his own, his on-stage chemistry with girlfriend Carter (playing Susan) is believable, both giving commendable performances throughout. However, the true magic was found in the quieter moments within the production, such as where Charlie teaches Raymond to dance. These sequences displayed the depth and talent of the protagonists, individually and as a duo, which generated genuine emotion from myself and the audience alike.
Testament to the film’s success, since its debut, the film’s successful plot style has been reproduced in Hollywood cinema almost to death. This discovery narrative is replicated in the show from the first scenes; the audience are introduced to the tragic fact that failing car salesman Charlie Babbitt’s (Edward Speleers, Downton Abbey) estranged father has passed away. The significance of his passing soon becomes clear as it is revealed that all of his worldly funds have been allocated to an unknown beneficiary, his autistic brother Raymond (Matthew Horne, of Gavin and Stacy). A brother that Charlie never even knew about. What follows is a wildly unrealistic but deliciously heart warming narrative, where Charlie breaks Raymond out of his assisted living facility with the promise to bring him home to California. A trip which soon turns into a powerful cross-country journey of discovery, isolation and brotherhood.
The production flowed effortlessly with good pacing and the transitions between scenes were impressively executed. The one and only disappointment was the writer, Dan Gordon’s, decision to skip the casino sequence and simply allude to it. In my opinion, the exclusion of such a crucial scene seemed odd and was one of the scenes I enjoyed the most within the film adaptation. Nevertheless, the set design and costuming still served to impress, bringing an electric and immersive 80’s vibe into the theatre.
All in all, the screen to stage production of Rain Man was a pleasure to watch. The performances were enjoyable and accessible with witty dialogue and moments of true brilliance. If you are in Cardiff this week I’d whole heartedly recommend giving it a gander.
Rain Man is showing at New Theatre until Saturday 15th September
For more information on tickets visit: www.newtheatrecardiff.co.uk / call: (029) 2087 8889