CREAGH/CARR REVIEW: Rain Man, MK Theatre

Rain Man
Rain Man

You get two for the price of one with the Creagh/Carr Review – the opinions of seasoned hackette Bev Creagh and flamboyant newshound Stewart Carr. Here’s what they thought of Rain Man, playing at Milton Keynes Theatre until Saturday, September 8.

CREAGH SAYS .... It’s 30 years since the film starring Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise won four Oscars.

It’s about an autistic savant called Raymond Babbitt – a role for which Hoffman collected the Best Actor Award – and his brash self-centred brother Charlie, who is seriously in debt.

Charlie is estranged from his father and unaware he has an older brother. But when the old man dies, leaving all his money to Raymond, he makes it his business to befriend the sibling he never knew existed.

And in the process, he releases Raymond’s inner soul and becomes a better man himself.

Must admit when I saw it originally, I was unimpressed. Not much was known about autism in those days and maybe I was coming from a place of ignorance.

But I didn’t think things were much better this time round. The first half is full of shouty dialogue in an American accent that was hard to follow - Charlie (Edward Speleers) cementing his credentials as a losing wheeler dealer.

But by the end of the evening, I was with the rest of the audience giving the cast a standing ovation.

Mathew Horne gives a stunning performance as Raymond. His presence on stage is mesmeric. In fact he was so convincing I did a double take when he came out wreathed in smiles to take another bow at the end of the show.

He certainly widened my knowledge of autism and the awesome talents many people with the condition possess.

Charlie almost comes full circle to protest his brother’s case with the doctors looking after him, credible portrayals from Neil Roberts as Dr Bruener and Adam Lilley as Dr Marston, a classic case of who really needs locking up.

The set is simple but perfect, with a backdrop of a psychedelic geometric design.

Thought-provoking theatre at its best.

CARR SAYS .... It’s sweet, endearing and at times hits a nerve, but this rigid revival of Rain Man just doesn’t do enough to lift itself above the famous movie version.

I’ll admit, it eventually won me over in the second half with the happy resolution we were all hoping for (and expecting).

But Rain Man is certainly a slow ride to begin with.

We meet our leading man Charlie (Edward Speleers), a tough-as-nails entrepeneur living up to the brash, “I’m a tiger” persona of 1980s commerce.

Charlie’s girlfriend Susan and his assistant are working against the clock to help him raise cash in a depressingly glum office, when the phone rings. Charlie’s father has just died.

Susan (Elizabeth Carter) – a suction of empathy, healing and other girly virtues - insists on accompanying Charlie to his father’s funeral, where he belatedly learns about the existence of an autistic older brother Raymond (Matthew Horne).

Determined to get Raymond’s lion’s share of the inheritance, Charlie plots forward only to be blown away by his brother’s spectacular abilities, as well as an emerging sensitivity.

Horne’s Raymond is an extreme case of autism and his anxious outbursts can sometimes seem a little overwrought, although it’s a profound performance overall.

The whole 80s theme and rag-tag selection of songs from the era seemed pretty redundant to me. A more ambitious adaptation could have rebooted the story in an original setting.

And despite its progresssive streak, Rain Man is essentially a play about men. We see the bond between the brothers and their arguments with the male doctors in positions of power.

The only significant woman is Susan, who trails after Charlie, mends his relationships, and squeals that he’s never said the ‘L’ word. It’s a role that badly needs an update in 2018.

The standing ovation at the end was a tad over-generous in my book.

Rain Man plays at MK Theatre until Saturday, September 8. See here for tickets.