Monday 29th October 2018 at The Grand Theatre and Opera House, Leeds.
This stage adaptation of the hit Cruise-Hoffman tour de force film comes from Dan Gordon and sells itself on the dramatic tag line ‘Two Brothers. One Destiny.’
It’s very much a stage re-make of the original and there’s little in the way of exciting or ambitious staging – it’s tidy in its simplicity, and it’s consequently also a little underwhelming. The clear lack of flair in adaptation and production leaves the weight of the show on the shoulders of its high profile leads and thankfully, they deliver both as individuals and as a pairing of brothers.
Under direction of Jonathan O’Boyle, Ed Speleers and Mathew Horne offer up a funny and heart-warming tale of two brothers re-uniting and bonding for life. Charlie (Speleers) is a wheeler and dealer; a chancer, a slippery swindler clawing his way through the world following an estrangement from his cold, unloving father. Raymond (Horne) is the brother Charlie forgot he had – he is severely autistic and has been living in care for most of his life.
When the father dies, Charlie takes a big chance, whisking the institutionalised Raymond away from his strict routines and security blankets, he takes his brother on a road trip with a goal to get what’s rightfully his at the end of it all. Dr Bruener has been assigned to oversee Raymond’s care however and Neil Roberts’ performance has Bruener flitting between appeasing with cajoling speeches and chastising with fiery lectures – but Charlie isn’t easily cowed.
Charlie also isn’t quite prepared for the depth of Raymond’s needs, and this leads to both comedy and conflict. Charlie is likewise unprepared for the discovery of Raymond’s unique capabilities – a gift to any chancer in the game. So what starts out as a self-righteous mission of greed and gain becomes a genuine connection with a brother he never knew he could love – all together now – ahhhh.
Does this production deliver this transformation with credibility? Does it portray this unique relationship and gradual connection with feeling? Actually, yes – the performances are strong enough to inspire genuine investment, and this production is certainly lucky to be able to rely on such a strong duo for its leads.
In fact, the quality of this production as a whole lies entirely at the feet of the impressive cast. In Speleers we have the classic dichotomy of a boy who grew up without love living in the body of a man who craves love and success but can’t get himself together enough to secure what he wants in life. Speleers swaggers like he was born to and he delegates, demands and defends like a man with everything to lose…which of course, is exactly the case for his character. What he does most skilfully here is he crafts Charlie to be 80% cold, self-serving wannabe and 20% pining boy who longs for love and recognition – it’s that 20% which allows the production a claim to that ‘heart-warming’ accolade because that 20% heart paves the way to an emotional attachment he, and to an extent we, were not expecting him to make.
The talented Elizabeth Carter plays Charlie’s girlfriend Susan – the sweet, good-intentioned and sweet-natured Yang To Charlie’s high-strung, non-committal Yin. Carter does more than play ‘the girlfriend’ and manages to give the character real strength of will and a solid moral compass, giving weight to her grand exit despite the script irksomely emphasising her role as underwear-clad good looking gal…
Horne also gives a solid, impressive performance as Raymond. With a studied physicality and voice, Horne makes sure that anyone in the audience looking for glimpses of Gavin or Lauren’s pal can see nothing of the sort; here he is a stage magician and Raymond is his creation. The focus needed for a role like this must be incredibly intense, but from the very genuine smiles at the curtain call, it’s plain to see that Horne has risen to the challenge – and perhaps already feels it.
Now, there’s no getting away from the shadow of Dustin Hoffman’s incredible depiction of Raymond on film, but Horne’s take on the role is fine-tuned and painted with careful brushstrokes. Yet it has to be said that while the many ticks and challenges of Raymond’s condition lead to both humour and moments of sweet sentimentality, relying so heavily on the ticks of someone with autism for gags doesn’t always feel savoury, and it certainly draws some awkward attention within a PC-driven, hyper-sensitive 2018 – on reflection, perhaps it was a wise decision to maintain the original era setting.
There’s a definite romance occurring between theatre producers and movie classics at the moment but while some adaptations offer a whole new perspective or at least a thrilling approach to staging in some way, others simply do a karaoke rendition of the original, patch-working together the key moments of the movie and recreating them with new actors standing in the shoes of the characters. This production of Rain Man falls into the latter category unfortunately.
While the performances across the cast are perfectly credible and well-played and while the central roles are taken by accomplished actors who give great performances here, there’s nothing new going on and it’s a little puzzling to consider why this story has inspired a team to produce it for the stage. There’s no real flair with stage or set design beyond a multi-functional cluster of frames which light up according to the scene change (Morgan Large) and the narrative hasn’t been flipped or set in a different era, revisions are few and fresh elements are impossible to spot.
In terms of production and modern adaptation, it’s all quite…pedestrian. So what we have here is two strong actors performing two well-known roles very well indeed, but not much else – it’s definitely impressive and it’s certainly very engaging to watch, but I’m not sure it’s enough to merit this stage re-make when stages are in such need of innovative and exciting things, new or old.
Rain Man is presented by Bill Kenwright Productions and The Classic Screen to Stage Theatre company. It is based on the MGM movie (story Barry Morrow, screenplay Ronald Bass and Morrow) and the show plays The Grand Theatre and Opera House, Leeds until November 3rd 2018 and you can find tickets here. Following this, the show tours the UK until November 17th 2018 and you can find more information and tickets here.