Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Rain Man - Theatre Royal, Newcastle

Rain Man
Writer: Barry Morrow
Adaptor: Dan Gordon
Director: Robin Herford
Reviewer:Ian Cain

Fresh from a hugely successful West End Run, Dan Gordon’s adaptation of the 1988 Oscar-winning film, ‘Rain Man’, has embarked on a triumphant national tour. Shamefully, I had never seen the movie version, which starred Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman, so I had no pre-conceived ideas as to what to expect. I was rewarded with two hours of entertainment that whirls up a maelstrom of emotions.

The story revolves around Charlie Babbitt (Oliver Chris), a self-centred and highly-strung Los Angeles-based car dealer and hustler. With his business failing fast and debtors demanding payment immediately, Charlie receives the news that his estranged father has died. Things go from bad to worse for Charlie when he discovers that his father has bequeathed $12m to an unnamed beneficiary, whilst leaving him only a classic Buick Roadmaster convertible and several prize rose bushes. Determined to retrieve what he deems to be rightfully his, Charlie resolves to find out the identity of the beneficiary and, in doing so, discovers that it is Raymond Babbitt (Neil Morrissey), an autistic savant and the brother that Charlie never knew he had.

Raymond lives in an institution in Ohio and is obsessed with routine – everything must be done at a certain time or kept in a certain place. His familiar, ordered and safe existence is thrown into chaos when Charlie decides to take Raymond back to LA with him to meet with attorney’s and secure at least half of the money for himself. As Charlie drives across America with his ‘retard’ brother his initial single-minded quest for cash evolves into a life-changing experience where he finally learns the true meaning of unconditional love, and forms an unbreakable bond with his autistic older brother.

Morrissey and Chris both deliver powerhouse performances. Chris captures Charlie’s abrasiveness, shallowness and lack of understanding perfectly, then – with equal skill – convinces the audience that the experience of meeting his brother has changed him for the better. Morrissey is focused and intense as Raymond and he plays the role with subtlety and believability. Both performances are earnest and truthful. Strong supporting performances are given by Charles Lawson as Breuner, Raymond’s doctor and Ruth Everett as Susan, Charlie’s girlfriend. Emma Gregory and Patrick Brennan are also effective in a number of smaller parts.

The set, designed by Jonathan Fensom, comprises a series of interchanging terracotta and turquoise walls and is suitably understated so as not to detract from the drama that is being played out under Robin Hereford’s subtle direction.

‘Rain Man’ is a vital and stirring piece of theatre that forces us to re-examine and challenge our attitudes towards each other. It is as uplifting as it is disturbing, as funny as it is poignant – in fact it is an illustration of everything that good theatre should be.

Runs until Sat 10th Oct
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