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Rain Man

Adapted for the stage by Dan Gordon, based on the MGM motion picture story by Barry Morrow
Theatre Royal, Newcastle, and touring
(2009)

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When Dustin Hoffman played Raymond ("Rain Man") Babbitt in the MGM film, he gave what can only be described as an iconic performance. He was always going to be a hard act to follow, although Adam Godley, Philip Fisher tells us, gave a fine performance in the West End last year. For the national tour, however, the producers have chosen an actor best known for the long-running sitcom Men Behaving Badly, Neil Morrissey. We might, I think, be forgiven for feeling that they are banking on his popularity to put bums on seats - and the applause on his first line would appear to bear that out.

To do him credit. Morrissey does not attempt to recreate Hoffman's performance but puts his own stamp on the part. It is a much bigger performance than Hoffman's - which it has to be: stage and film acting are two very different beasts - but I feel he overplays the angular gestures and body language. He gives us an extreme case.

Dan Gordon keeps the essence of the film, introducing us first to failing businessman Charlie Babbit (Oliver Chris) and his precarious fanancial situation through a series of increasingly desperate phone conversations he, his assistant Lucy (Emma Gregory) and girlfriend Susan (Ruth Everett) have with unseen customers and suppliers. The news of the death of his father arrives and he sees inheriting his fortune (around $12m) as his way out of trouble only to find that it has gone to an unknown beneficiary, the brother he had forgotten he had, the autistic Raymond, who has been confined to an insiutution ever since their mother died when Charlie was a toddler.

Charlie virtually kidnaps Raymond and there follows a trip across the US from the family home in Cincinnati to his own home in Los Angeles. Thus begins a journey on a number of levels: the actual travel (by car, because Raymond won't fly), a journey into the past as Charlie gradually remembers, and a journey into humanity as he sheds his selfishness and starts to relate to the brother whom he initially dismisses as a "retard". It's also a journey - for the audience as well as for Charlie - into an understanding of autism.

Inevitably there are frequent changes of scene but Jonathan Fensom's design keeps them simple and speedy, something made easier by the fact that so many scenes are set in interchangeable motel rooms. The important things is that the actors are able to maintain the dramatic tension: the play does not sag as the scene changes.

Contrary to my expectation it works - not just the casting of Morrison but the adaptation. There were moments when Oliver Chris' diction left something to be desired and words were lost, but as a whole it works as a play in its own right and not just as an adaptation of a much loved film.

Philip Seager reviewed this production in Sheffield

Reviewer: Peter Lathan