United Kingdom Critic
I’ve noticed a recent trend in the rise of pieces of theatre inspired by stories from across the States, as well as productions actually brought over from there too. It almost seems as if British directors are seeing the merit in finding and understanding the universal power of narratives from other cultures, and seeing how they interweave with our own narratives and culture. On that note, I popped into the Leeds Grand Theatre to check out The Classic Screen to Stage Theatre Company’s latest adaptation of the classic MGM film ‘Rain Man’.
It’s the 1980s. Cincinnati. Charlie Babbitt (Ed Speleers) is a wheeling and dealing money grabber obsessed with dollar signs. He feels on top of the world, with the green notes pouring in and his beautiful girlfriend Susan (Elizabeth Carter) at his side. However, when he receives the news his estranged father has died, and that he pretty much hasn’t received a bean in the will reading, he’s hell bent on tracking down the beneficiary to receive his ‘rightful share’. That beneficiary happens to be his autistic brother Raymond (Mathew Horne), who rarely ventures beyond the walls of the resident hospital and the dull aisles of K-Mart. Turning up at the hospital, Charlie takes his brother on an adventure, where he’ll discover something more important than money.
What follows is a tender, affirming narrative surrounding the vitality of family. Director Jonathan O’Boyle’s vision primarily stays true to the stylistic parameters of the adaptation’s origins on the screen. As a result, the piece often feels like a modern slice of psychological realism, inviting the audience to emotionally grapple with Charlie’s moral decisions and remain engaged by the adaptation’s subtext and subliminal messages. On that note, while this translation of the text from its multi-angle beginnings into a single space live representation feels smooth, there are times when the atmospheres emanating from the physical action and characters feel stunted and unable to properly materialise. Without a consistent group of tangible, developing atmospheres, the audience is left really reaching for what’s being said on stage, and there’s almost a feeling of being left stranded in the auditorium as we wait for the narrative to develop, making it even more of a challenge for the actors to convey it to us in the process.
Having said that, there are times when this filmic, internalisation of atmospheres lends itself well to the adaptation’s style. Amidst the backdrop of Morgan Large’s stylish, sleek set design, and the quiet between the sonic interludes from sound designer Dan Samson, we find ourselves engrossed in tender moments between the performers. It’s in these moments where this adaptation of ‘Rain Man’ truly shines and excels at allowing us to engage with the sensitive and considered characterisations from the ensemble of performers.
Speleers brings to life the fiery, sharp-tongued Babbitt with a relentless energy that perfectly captures the essence of a man crying out to be tempered by the virtues of familial values, underpinning the main themes of the play. Whilst I feel at times there are moments his characterisation feels slightly too internalised and filmic, leaving us battling against the hum of the lights at the sides of the stage as we reach to connect with the character in the quiet moments, his overall energy and portrayal evolve into a consistent, complex and engaging character. Horne’s performance as Babbitt’s brother Raymond is detailed, intricate and beautifully conceived, tapping into a sense of perfect comic timing and the gradual development of the relationship between the two brothers. Whilst Horne’s representation and portrayal is perfectly valid and masterfully crafted, however, it is perhaps worth asking, in this current day and age of diversity and representation, why an actor diagnosed with autism couldn’t be cast in the same role in a bid to address the questions originally raised by the film.
In spite of its occasional lulls in atmospheric and performative energy, this adaptation of ‘Rain Man’ is full of tender, affirming moments, and showcases some beautifully considered performances that will leave you touched long after the fall of the curtain.
‘Rain Man’ is at the Leeds Grand Theatre until 3rd November and continues on tour. For more information and tickets, visit here.
Cast (in order of appearance)
Charlie: Ed Speleers
Susan: Elizabeth Carter
Lucy/Sally/Iris the Hooker: Mairi Barclay
Mr Mooney/Dr Marston: Adam Lilley
Dr Bruener: Neil Roberts
Raymond: Mathew Horne
Billy the Tourist/Bell Boy: Joe Sellman Leava
Brandy the Tourist: Hannah Barker
Director: Jonathan O’Boyle
Designer: Morgan Large
Lighting Designer: Jack Weir
Sound Designer: Dan Samson
Company Stage Manager: Paul C Deavin
Deputy Stage Manager: Helen Clarkson
Head of Wardrobe: Rob Bicknell
Props Supervisor: Natalia Sharville
Costume Supervisor: Alex Stewart
Touring LX: Joshua Hale