Touring – reviewed at the Milton Keynes Theatre
Bill Kenwright’s first outing with his new The Classic Screen to Stage Theatre Company is a revival of Dan Gordon’s Rain Man, based on the Oscar-winning film that starred Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman.
The national tour has just launched, opening at the Milton Keynes Theatre, where Gavin & Stacey’s Mathew Horne gave his best impression of Hoffman’s autistic savant, Raymond Babbitt.
So why would you pay, say £80, for a pair of tickets to see Horne and Downton Abbey’s Ed Speleers when you could pick up the original 1988 DVD for less than a tenner? Is it actually worth adapting great movies for the stage?
Rain Man was a comedy-drama road-trip movie which saw opportunist wheeler-dealer, Charlie Babbitt, snatch hi brother with a disability from a care home. They drive across America and, along the way, both men learn a bit of humanity and compassion. So the basic concept is hard to achieve on stage where there’s no classic 1949 Buick Roadmaster and you’re missing the great American landscape, which is integral to the story.
Designer Morgan Large does his best with an occasional video backcloth, and a set design of interlocking picture frames, but it’s not the same.
The episodic stage production works, up to a point. There is an awful lot of scene shifting, with different beds and chairs being wheeled on, accompanied by an overloud snatch of a 1980s pop hit, which disrupts the flow of the narrative.
And the first act is frenetic. From the moment the show opens the cast are shouting at each other to the extent that it’s hard to understand whole chunks of dialogue. Speleers is desperately trying to hold on to a car deal, chase the financing, keep his head above water, and not lose his girlfriend and secretary, Susan.
Elizabeth Carter, as Susan, gets herself so worked up that, at times, her US accent turns into a whining, high-pitched screech. You just want to interrupt the performance and hand out a few Valiums to the cast.
Jonathan O’Boyle directs it at fever pitch which destroys any subtlety that may exist in the script. The music is too loud, the volume from the cast is too high. Everything needs to slow down a bit and chill.
Yet, after the interval, there is a considerable change of pace and some real tender, moving moments that are deftly handled.
Charlie is a chancer who left home at 16 and never returned. Alienated from his father he’s had to make his own way in the world and the chip on his shoulder is colossal.
When his father dies Charlie discovers that a $3m inheritance has gone to a brother that he never knew existed while all he got was a few rose bushes as his dad’s prized car.
Raymond has lived most of his life in an institution. He’s a high functioning autistic savant who has a photographic memory and who recites a classic Abbott & Costello routine when he’s anxious.
Cheated of his birthright Charlie kidnaps Raymond from the home in a bid to get access to his half of the money but will the journey be one of redemption or regret?
Horne does a remarkable job with Raymond, physically inhabiting the skin of a man who is brilliant but unexpressive, who lives by his routines and is isolated in a world of his own making. It is both profoundly poignant and occasionally highly amusing.
Charlie’s character has been cleaned up for theatre audiences. Gone are the nastier elements and he’s now a crowd-pleasing Jack-the-Lad type, which earns him sympathy when it’s not entirely deserved.
Is this inaugural production from Classic Screen to Stage a success? It’s not bad but the plotting is slow and uneven and there are times when I felt uncomfortable laughing at Raymond’s plight.
It may have been fine in the 1980s but in these more caring and compassionate times, is Raymond’s inability to cope with day to day minutiae still a suitable subject for comedy?
Rain Man runs at Milton Keynes Theatre until Saturday. Buy Rain Man theatre tickets from one of our recommended theatre ticket websites.