Rain Man – Royal & Derngate, Northampton

I remember Mathew Horne playing Gavin in the much-loved, double BAFTA-winning comedy series Gavin and Stacey and Ed Speleers as Jimmy Kent in the Golden Globe award-winning series Downton Abbey. 
At first glance it seemed like an unlikely combination of actors to take on the iconic roles of Charlie and Raymond Babbitt in the stage adaptation of the classic 1988 film Rain Man, but it works!

Comparisons with the Award winning actors Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise are inevitable but this stage representation is very different. 
We all know the story, debt ridden Charlie Babbit finds out that all his recently dead father has left him in his will are some prized roses and an old car he was never allowed to drive. He then argued, left home at sixteen years of age, never to speak to his father again!

Charlie also discovers he has an older autistic brother, Raymond, the Rainman as it turns out, who is to inherit the family fortune of over two million dollars from his fathers will.
Self – centred Charlie needs the money and sets out to claim his half of the fortune but he also rather surprisingly discovers himself in the process. 
Edward Speleers is much better when he is teaching his brother to dance showing his sensitive side than he is earlier in the play, when he comes over as a loud, selfish, uncaring bore. 

Mathew Horne and Ed Speleers

The stage sets were minimalist and disappointing, the brothers visit to the glamorous glittering town of Las Vegas, which I have visited, was reduced to the sight of two open door frames and a couple of beds. We didn’t even get to see the Casino where Charlie and Raymond went out and won all of their money with Raymond counting cards with his phenomenal skills in numbers and memory, a holdall carrying the money had to serve that purpose!

It was a tad too slow during the first half but improved in the second with some tender scenes between the two brothers and I even laughed on a few occasions. In Rain Man you are laughing with Raymond, rather than at him. 

Bringing very familiar films to the stage is fraught with difficulties because viewers will always be making comparisons between the two. I enjoyed this performance but I did not get to my feet at the final curtain call but many more rose to give the cast a standing ovation.
The original Rain Man script was written to portray autism as the underlying disability on which Raymond Babbitts super abilities are overlaid. 

The Rain Man film which was released in 1988 won an Oscar for Best Picture, Best Screenplay, Best Director and Best Actor with Award winning performances from Cruise and Hoffman. 
It helped change public attitudes about autism and reflected a more positive outlook on the condition for those people with autism. 
Whether Rain man has continued to create a wider understanding of the condition after thirty years since the film was released is questionable. Its depiction of autism is now a little outdated with a much greater understanding of the condition and the underlying reasons for its development than there was three decades ago.

Nevertheless, I enjoyed the adaptation and warmed to all of the characters as the show progressed. The cinematic performances from Cruise and Hoffman were quickly pushed to the back of my mind as I watched the superb presentations of a very good cast of Mathew Horne, Ed Speleers, Mairi Barclay (Pippin), Hannah Barker, Elizabeth Carter (Dreamboats and Petticoats), Adam Lilley (The 39 Steps), Neil Roberts (Mamma Mia!) and Joe Sellman Leava (Monster).

Which Classic screen film would you like to see transferred to the stage?

The production, written by Dan Gordon, is directed by Jonathan O’Boyle whose credits include This House (UK tour) and Hair (Hope Mill Theatre/The Vaults), winner of the WhatsOnStage Award for Best Off West End Production.
Rain Man takes to the Derngate stage all this week until Saturday 24 November at 7.30pm, with matinees at 2.30pm on Wednesday and Saturday.

Tickets – priced from £11* – can be booked by calling Box Office on 01604 624811 or online at www.royalandderngate.co.uk.