Rain Man, the stage production adaptation of the classic 1988 movie is at The King’s Theatre Edinburgh for one week only (Monday 1 to Sat 6 October) and although our two leading actors – Ed Speleers (Charlie) and Mathew Horne (Raymond) bring a distinctly different edge to their characters from the film, there are some problems that this production just cannot get past.
This production is brought to us via “The Classic Screen To Stage Theatre Company”, and what the company do is obviously in the name, but this is not, like so many other films, an obvious one for stage adaption as “Rain Man” starring Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman is essentially a “Road Movie”, and it is that journey that allows our two re-united and newly found to one another brothers time to begin to bond together. Just how do you bring that concept to the stage? Well, one way is to do as this production does; pretty much stick to the movie dialogue and have a very sparse and at times abstract set (still managing some very clumsy set changes though) to represent various points in the journey. In some scenes, it works, but in others we have lost so much of the essence of the original source material.
Another problem with this production is that in sticking so closely to the original dialogue, we have a 1980s view of autism and attitudes towards someone with autism, and some of the dialogue as it refers to Raymond is simply not acceptable anymore. As a society we have thankfully moved far beyond this point in our medical understanding and social attitudes to autism. Some of the views here really do belong in another century.
Having said all of the above though, Ed Speleers (Charlie) and Mathew Horne (Raymond) do what stage actors do best here, and concentrate on the relationships between people and bring them to life with a skilful and at times very gentle touch. Ed Speleers probably has the less difficult of the roles here as his character Charlie starts out as a self-centred man who happily uses everyone around him for his own ends. Charlie is struggling to keep afloat his business that is importing four Lamborghinis to Los Angeles for resale. All four cars have fallen foul of EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) emission legislation, and Charlie is in trouble. Into this mixture he gets a call to say his wealthy, but estranged, father has died. All hopes of getting any inheritance to solve his money problems are dashed when he finds that apart from a rose bush and a 1949 Buick Roadmaster, everything else has been left to someone else. That someone he soon finds is an unknown to him brother, an autistic savant called Raymond. At first, Raymond is nothing more than an opportunity to claim his rightful share of his inheritance, but along the way, we get to see a redemption in Charlie as a human being, and Ed portrays these changes well.
Mathew Horne as Raymond has so much of the focus of this production on him, and it is a very good performance of some of the many challenges that a high functioning autistic person can encounter in their daily life. Mathew Horne was never going to have an easy task in this role as not only did his Raymond have to be a different take from the one portrayed by Dustin Hoffman in the original film to have any credibility, his character also has to walk along that very thin razor edge of the audience laughing with Raymond, but never at Raymond. For the most part, it works on both levels.
This story is essentially a two person story, and there is a limit to what anyone else here can do with their roles, and Elizabeth Carter as Susan (Charlie’s girlfriend) is an obvious example of this. Charlie and Susan never work for me as an on stage couple. Susan and Raymond in a small but very tender scene does however work far better. Neil Roberts as Dr Bruener also has a similar problem here as his character never gets the chance to connect with anyone else in the story past a very superficial level. As part of that “Charlie and Raymond” story though, this production really does need a casino scene that allows us to witness Raymond at his card counting best, and not just the “look what we’ve won” after the event scene. We do at least though get that wonderful realisation moment of why “Rain Man” and Raymond are the same person from Charlie’s childhood.
Some solid performances on stage here, but even the 1980s music soundtrack cannot escape the fact that there are so many films out there that are perfect for adapting to the stage and Rain Man for me just is not one of them. This production also lost an opportunity to do something with the original story and bring it more in line with how we as a society today view autism as a medical condition and support people who on whatever level of the scale are autistic. In all fairness though, this is obviously a licensed and approved production and there were perhaps restrictions on just how this production was presented.
Review by Tom King