REVIEW: Rain Man shows immersive theatre at its best
- Credit: Archant
Rarely does a piece of theatre totally envelope you in its duvet-like folds, taking you away from everything going on in your own life for two and a half hours as much as Rain Man did at The Playhouse when it opened there last night (Monday).
The story of two brothers who discover each other after their father dies has been turned from an Oscar-winning film into a stage show by theatre genius Bill Kenwright.
Soap actors Paul Nicholls, formerly of EastEnders, and ex-Hollyoaks star Chris Fountain are taking on the parts made famous by Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise in the 1988 film in the touring production.
The story follows self-centred businessman Charlie Babbitt who discovers his autistic savant brother Raymond has inherited their father’s fortune, so he sets out on a mission to get his half.
Charlie frees Raymond from the institution he has lived in for many years and they drive across America where he discovers his brother is worth more than he could ever imagine.
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In last night’s performance Raymond was played by understudy Adam Lilley who, although more reminiscent of Tom Hanks in the film Forest Gump than Hoffman’s Rain Man, was nevertheless completely convincing, giving a faultless interpretation of what must be one of the most difficult roles an actor can play.
Imitating someone’s condition, with all the tics, quirks and routine mannerisms and paying homage, rather than appearing to be mocking them, should only ever be undertaken by an actor who has finely honed their craft.
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However it was Fountain who carried the whole piece for me, delivering a mesmerising and amazingly endearing performance as the arrogant but inherently damaged Charlie who undergoes a massive transformation from dodgy wheeler-dealer car salesman at the start to devoted family man come the end.
The supporting cast, including Elizabeth Carter as Charlie’s girlfriend Susan and Dominic Taylor as Raymond’s carer Dr Bruener, were also exceptional in providing the perfectly plausible, highly emotional and gripping tale.
The sets are simple yet effective, mainly being hotel rooms, which are easily shifted around between scenes to the backdrop of anthemic 1980s songs.
I was somewhat surprised to see the first-night performance was not a sell-out as I thought it might be, but the audience, clearly made up of huge fans of the film, lapped up every ounce of the story’s tender moments.
In particularly, the scene where Charlie teaches his brother to dance in which you could hear the proverbial pin drop, then the last scene, when Charlie was unable to convince Ray’s doctors of any change in his emotionless behaviour, he leans his head on Charlie’s shoulder and repeatedly spells out his name aloud. The only audible sounds then were the choking back of tears and more than a few ‘aaahhh’s.
Despite the main themes of despair, cruelty, hope, perseverance and love, the story has a lot of humour and these are cleverly derived from Ray’s tics and his inability to understand social interaction.
The brilliant cast were absolutely deserving of one of the swiftest standing ovations I’ve ever witnessed.
Rain Man runs until Saturday (April 20).
Tickets, priced £28.50-34.50, are available online by logging on to www.parkwoodtheatres.co.uk/Playhouse-Theatre or from 01934 645544.