King’s Theatre, Edinburgh
It’s traditionally been the case that a successful play is turned into a movie but, more recently, there’s been a trend towards the reverse of that process, particularly when it comes to turning comedies into musicals. Happily they’ve decided to play this one straight. Rain Man first saw the light of day in 1988 as a film, directed by Barry Levinson and starring Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman. It was, of course, a huge (and deserved) hit. This version is the inaugural production of ‘Classic Screen to Stage,’ with Ronald Bass’s original screenplay adapted by Dan Gordon. The story retains its 1988 setting, which is a good decision, since the world is now much more aware of autism and those who have the condition are treated far more sympathetically than they once were.
Charlie Babbit Jnr (Ed Speleers) is a hard-nosed automobile salesman operating just on the edge of the law. When we first encounter him, he’s closing a couple of deals over the phone, promising to pay cheques to people on the other end of the line and planning to take his fiancé, Susan (Elizabeth Carter), off for a naughty weekend. But then comes the news that his father has passed away, an event that barely causes him to raise an eyebrow. He and his father have been estranged for years. But, Charlie’s mother being long dead, there is a considerable estate to be handed over so, of course, Charlie and Susan head to the family’s home town for the funeral and the reading of the will.
Charlie is disgusted to find that all he’s been left is his father’s old car and his prized collection of classic roses. The three million dollar estate is to go to an unnamed party. Understandably miffed, Charlie starts doing some digging and soon discovers that he has an older brother he never knew about. Raymond (Mathew Horne) is sequestered in an institution. He is what was then known as an ‘autistic savant.’ Unable to cope with everyday situations, Raymond nevertheless has an incredible ability to remember facts, numbers and images. At first merely interested in getting his hands on half of the estate, Charlie practically kidnaps Raymond and takes him across country towards L.A., meaning to use him as ransom for his demands – but, as the two men spend time together, something suspiciously like brotherly affection begins to blossom between them.
At first, I don’t think I’m going to enjoy this adaptation. The opening scene, which is just people talking to unseen characters on the phone, doesn’t really catch fire. But as soon as Raymond makes an appearance, so the story takes a massive step up. Horne, who seems to have spent the past decade trying to atone for the (admittedly rather dismal) Lesbian Vampire Killers is really rather good in this, and he and Speleers make an engaging double act. Like the film, there really isn’t that much for the female actors to do, but Carter makes the best of what she’s been given. (Just a thought. Couldn’t one of the doctors featured here have been a woman?)
Morgan Large’s production design is nicely done, all illuminated outsize squares and rectangles that rise up and down to form portals, posters and advertising hoardings, while the various set changes are slickly choreographed to the sound of classic 80s pop songs. The show seems to scamper along so briskly that I am surprised when the interval comes and equally surprised when the show reaches its poignant conclusion.
If you loved the film (and let’s face it, who didn’t?), the chances are you’ll enjoy this too. And thank goodness they’ve not attempted to turn this into Rain Man: The Musical!