Touring – reviewed at King’s Theatre, Edinburgh
Guest reviewer: Hugh Simpson
There are probably enough fans of the original movie to sustain The Classic Screen to Stage Company’s touring version of Rain Man. However, as a piece of theatre, it never makes a successful case for itself.
Dan Gordon’s adaptation is largely faithful to the screenplay Barry Morrow and Ronald Bass wrote for the 1988 Barry Levinson film about wheeler-dealer used-car salesman Charlie Babbitt. Charlie only discovers he has a brother called Raymond when their father dies and leaves Raymond his fortune.
The film is largely known, of course, for Dustin Hoffman’s portrayal of the savant Raymond. While the movie undoubtedly did a great deal to raise the subject of autism, there are many troubling things about the way the character is depicted. You would certainly hope that, 30 years on, different choices would be made.
So it is disappointing that this production – as the name of Bill Kenwright’s new company suggests – is little more than a retread of the film. One of the biggest problems in adapting what is essentially a road movie for the stage is that the genre is so unsuited to the theatre. Important events happen offstage and are merely referenced; what remains is a series of static episodes that are linked by unnecessarily clunky scene changes. Jonathan O’Boyle’s direction is disappointingly pedestrian; even though this is a relatively short play, it does not exactly fly by.
Matthew Horne’s Raymond, meanwhile, is rooted in another era. Perhaps rights issues preclude a more nuanced revision of the character, but his performance rarely amounts to more than a series of verbal and physical tics.
On a purely technical level, it is an astonishingly sustained feat of acting, but it fails to make much emotional impact, and he is too much a figure of fun too often. Thirty years suddenly seems a very long time in the way neurodiversity is portrayed.
The other performances do not help a great deal. Downtown Abbey’s Ed Speleers, in his stage debut as Charlie, seems out of his depth. He is not helped by this version of the narrative affording little opportunity for the believable redemption of a thoroughly dislikeable individual, but Speleers never seems sure how to pitch the character.
Elizabeth Carter is on even more of a hiding to nothing as Charlie’s girlfriend Susan, a role that is desperately underwritten. That Carter is doing her best is shown by the impact of her scene with Horne in the second half, which provides the one moment of real depth on show. Too often, however, Carter and Speleers are both reduced to shouting as a substitute for emotion.
Adam Lilley and Neil Roberts attempt to provide some much-needed heft as the various authority figures, but the characters are little more than ciphers. Mairi Barclay’s roles are comedy stereotypes but are at least discharged with fun and energy.
That all of this is little more than a 1980s tribute act is reinforced by the hair metal and soft rock that underscore the interminable scene changes at considerable volume. This reinforces the feel of a period piece that has no particularly urgent reason to be revived.
Running time: Two hours and 10 minutes (including one interval)
King’s Theatre, 2 Leven Street EH3 9LQ.
Monday 1 – Saturday 6 October 2018.
Evenings: 7.30pm; Weds, Sat matinees: 2.30pm.
Tickets: Click here to buy tickets online.
Tour website: www.kenwright.com.
Rain Man on tour:
1 – 6 Oct
0131 529 6000
8 – 13 Oct
15 – 20 Oct
0844 871 7650
22 – 27 Oct
01483 44 00 00
29 Oct – 3 Nov
0844 848 2700
5 – 10 Nov
0844 871 7651
12 – 17 Nov
01332 59 3939
19 – 24 Nov
Royal & Derngate
01604 624 811
Tour continues 2019:
21 – 26 Jan 2019
0844 871 7645
11 – 16 March 2019
19 – 23 March 2019
25 – 30 March 2019
0844 871 7647