Having finished re-watching the film only an hour before the lights came up, I was doubtful any production of Rain Man would match the iconic film made over twenty years ago. However, I forced myself to keep an open mind – and was pleasantly surprised.
Dan Gordon’s adaptation opens by hurling the audience straight into Charlie Babbitt’s chaotic lifestyle of ducking and diving between clients and loan companies, climaxing with the call about his father’s passing. Oliver Chris’ portrayal of Charlie, whilst initially a slavish imitation of Tom Cruise’s performance in the film version of Rain Man, reflected a more individual understanding of the character as the play went on. The last character to enter the stage was an unexpectedly cast Neil Morrissey as Raymond. Bravely, he didn’t try to emulate Dustin Hoffman’s portrayal of the character in the same way as Chris did, instead sensitively depicting a man struggling to live in a society with such an interfering condition.
However, this play is not without its faults. What the production misses is the closeness or ‘connection’ that Charlie develops for Raymond. The film allows for this change to occur over several episodes of frustration, despair and eventual acceptance. On stage this transition happens too hastily. Its saving grace is the good direction; Robin Herford’s scenes were uncluttered, well thought out and sensitive to the story. A strong chemistry between Morrissey and Chris ensured that you believed the struggle that they’ve both endured and could empathise with Charlie’s wish to be permanently reunited with his brother.
For me, the most pervasive issue of the play, perhaps because I had the film so fresh in my mind, was how the play was deliberately more comical – the audience being often encouraged to laugh at Raymond’s unusual behaviour – this elicits patronizing sympathy from the audience, something the film seems to consciously avoid. Surely Charlie is the one we should pity, an emotionless git who tries to pawn his brother off to get a fortune he doesn’t deserve? Besides these problems though, this play is a brave and triumphant adaptation of a cult classic, encapsulating the turbulent but rewarding journey that these two brothers go through after the death of their father.