FringeReview USA 2018
Directed by Jonathan O’Boyle. Morgan Large’s set is a swift arrangements of office and home furniture, twin beds in motels with a Vegas backdrop, and a swift movement of props. Jack Weir’s lighting allows bright day and night-time Vegas a soft play over proceedings. Dan Samson’s sound reels Sixties to Eighties hits with an unerring funny-bone.
Not a few theatre adaptations of films or even books rely on brilliant sets with hard-working casts and still seem leaden. With Barry Morrow’s Rain Man it was always going to be different. The visceral presence of an autistic lead character lends something immediate you only get on stage, here adapted by Dan Gordon in this Classic Screen to Stage Theatre Company production. A previous production toured to Theatre Royal exactly nine years ago. Same adaptation but a world divides then and now: this one directed by Jonathan O’Boyle starring Matthew Horne is in a different class.
Horne lends a tender terrible theatricality to Cincinnati-based Raymond – a shrouded savant in more than one sense. Elsewhere in Los Angeles Ed Speleers’ bratty Charlie juggles a failing business between two secretaries and wild promises of payment – lover Susan (Elizabeth Carter) and Lucy (Mari Barclay’s first of three roles). Speleers combines a heady mix of preppy freshness with a foul me-me temper: the embodiment of the Greed is Good generation. He has no idea what’s to hit him in every sense. On top of this his father whom he’s not spoken to for about fourteen years has just died, Susan tells him. He has no idea that he’s been left just rose bushes and the 1949 Buick he once stole. $3 million’s to go somewhere obscure.
Haranguing Adam Lilley’s lawyer Mr Mooney only gets him so far. To the Wallbrook institution and Dr Breuner, played with suave weariness by Neil Roberts. Breuenr’s sympathetic, wants what’s best yet there’s a blinkered complacency about Raymond ever developing any human interaction, and that complacency’s a little venal too.
The money’s for the brother he never knew he had, just now chasing in Susan having recognized the Buck outside; it’s their father’s. Raymond astonishes Charlie with his fantastic numeracy though he’s no concept of money. Any shift of routine and he starts beating himself over the head and body in a mirror shadow-boxing routine. Horne’s hang-dog averted head, his hunched defensives and twangy speech, often ‘yes’ intrigues Charlie, but Charlie’s even more related to money and Raymond doesn’t even appreciate it.
Morgan Large’s set is a swift arrangements of office and home furniture, twin beds in motels with a Vegas backdrop, and a swift movement of props. It’s storytelling of the kind film-to-theatre demands with its rapid shifts. The light blue backdrop’s on the lower side of tech but some props are lowered beautifully into position and there’s a fluidity in between that’s commendable. Jack Weir’s lighting allows bright day and night-time Vegas a soft play over proceedings. Dan Samson’s sound reels Sixties to Eighties hits with an unerring funny-bone: The Doors ‘When You’re Strange’ haunts the memory here.
Refused money, outraged at this latest trick, Charlie kidnaps Raymond for a road trip of a lifetime taking in Las Vegas to Cincinnati where the Institute – and Raymond’s boxer shorts store can be located. Who is this Calvin Klein Raymond demands when presented with briefs? Raymond’s refused flying, so it’s a road movie, though we get noen fo that despite Raymond’s call-sign ‘I’m an excellent driver’ which means driving along a gravel path for a few moments.
Raymond’s also happened on Charlie and Susan making love in the next room and comes in imitating her orgasmic cries. Charlie’s furious, Susan more sympathetic and it’s the last straw. Susan’s out of his life. Carter’s excellent at showing warmth, incredible loyalty and desire, and a ready empathy for Raymond. But it’s Charlie’s treatment that for the moment makes her ditch him. He never uses the L word. He too has been badly hurt.
You’d say they were both locked in but for two things. The pivotal recognition is Charlie’s ‘imaginary friend’ the Rain Man of the title suddenly slotting into place, as a child’s corruption of a name. Something miraculous gives. The early comfort denied both when their mother dies young at thirty-nine somehow melts. Charlie with Raymond’s unerring memory – it’s freaked lots of people out on the way – resolves some primal puzzles.
And that’s not all. Charlie realizes Raymond can mentally mark cards. There’s a Vegas scene, a hooker Iris (Barclay again in her most extended vamp role) where Horne naturally steals the astonishment stakes, some smart suits and a snappier getaway. si they’ve just done something against house rules, the rules that Charlie divines rules the world. each in their separate prison. It’s an epiphany that changes Charlie.
Susan can never vanish for long and armed with huge winnings there’s a chance she can convey much of this to creditors, just as Charlie’s about to be ruined. But there’s a return, a fight, (Lilley now a second-opinion stitch-up Dr Marston and a reconcilement.
The ending’s slightly bittersweet, but right. AS a soulf-searching and sou-fidning movie, this was always special. As a piece of theatre and with strong ensemble and superb leads, especially Horne, it’s theatrically alive in a way few such adaptations are. Good support from Joe Sellman Leava as an astonished bellboy and Hannah Barker as tourist, completes a swift-paced telling that makes an absorbing, subtly mind-altering night out.