Dan Gordon’s stage adaptation of the timeless Hollywood classic Rain Man reminds us of our intrinsic need for compassion, humanity and sensitivity. Reinventing the Oscar-winning film for theatre was always going to have its trials, but with a cast boasting the likes of Matthew Horne (Gavin from Gavin and Stacey) and Ed Speleers (Eragon) it was almost impossible for the production to be anything but absorbing. Following in the footsteps of Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise, Horn and Speleers exquisitely carried the play with their genuine portrayal of challenging brotherly love, showing them as they embarked on a journey to gain more than just the money.
When the egocentric salesman, Charlie Babbit (Speleers), is denied his father’s $3 million he sets out to claim what he believes is rightfully his. His unwavering determination and hunger for money lead him to an institution where he learns of his long-lost brother, Raymond Babbit (Horne). In a self-interested attempt to get his half of the money, Charlie ‘borrows’ Raymond from everyone and everything he has ever known.
It is very clear that our 21st-century attitudes toward autism and disabilities have changed, yet the performance is a harrowing reminder of the ill-treatment and neglect many people experienced. Horne’s mesmerizingly funny performance was, without doubt, the backbone of the production. He was utterly convincing and his delicate attention to detail, from the crook of his right arm which remained slightly jaunted for the duration of the performance to his distracted eye contact, was faultless. Any temptation to imagine Horne as the beloved Gavin quickly diminishes the second he enters onto stage, fanatically repeating incoherent sentences.
Ed Speleers, making his first stage debut, begins the show as a shouty, obnoxious salesman and ends as a sympathetic, understanding brother. Horne and Speleer’s connection on stage was flawless as moments of uninterrupted intimacy between the two switched to laugh-out-loud comedy. They made a well-executed shift between the two on numerous occasions, none more so than during a scene where Charlie teaches Raymond how to dance. The subtly of their movements and time they took to get comfortable with each other made for both a sincere, yet almost uncomfortable, representation of Raymond’s autism.
The play was unquestionably at its best when a tender and sensitive moment was directly followed by a comedic episode or outburst from Horne. Executed with confidence and professionalism, Horne and Speleer’s first class performance was more than deserving of the standing ovation.
The production is running until Saturday 3rd November at The Opera House, Leeds.
Image credit: yorkshirewonders.co.uk