There is always a challenge in translating from one media to another. I’ve only really felt the emotional conundrum when I’ve read the book beforehand. In seeing Rain Man at the New Theatre, Cardiff I felt conflicted in the screen to stage translation.
Ok, so we recently enjoyed seeing Legally Blonde – The Musical after loving the film, maybe this was because the translation moved genres. In choosing Rain Man as the inaugural production of the Classic Screen to Stage Company, it feels like the bar has been set a little too high. The familiarity and reputation of the film seemingly too iconic to create something spectacular on stage.
Rain Man takes on the story of Charlie and Raymond Babbit. Charlie is the selfish wheeler-dealer. On the death of his estranged father, not only discovers he has not inherited his family’s multi-million dollar estate but that he has a brother. Raymond is an autistic savant. It is only through fact recall that Charlie establishes not only that Raymond is his brother, in his few memories of his childhood, this was his relationship with the Rain Man.
The stage version stays true to the film. But in doing so, given the constraints of the stage, feels more frantic. The first act has more pace than needed to allow understanding with the central characters of Raymond, Charlie and Charlie’s girlfriend, Susan. Whilst the second act slows down enough to allow the relationship between Raymond and Charlie to develop, the overall pace limits engagement.
Morgan Large’s design has much to achieve, and in doing so inadvertently adds to the feeling of frenetic. The scene shifting is a constant, and whilst Dan Samson’s soundtrack adds to the feel of the era, it becomes a distraction. There is a sense that the interlocking picture frames could achieve far more, if more fully utilised, than the constant movement of staging.
Whilst there are flaws which can be improved, there are moments which hold the production. Matthew Horne’s performance is captivating. Beyond the appreciation of Gavin returning to South Wales, there is nothing comparable in character. There is a sense in Horne’s immersion in Raymond that this is beyond re-creating Dustin Hoffman’s performance. Horne presents an appreciation of the physicality of an autistic savant. Through the intricacies of Horne’s portrayal there is a feeling of all-absorbing.
Edward Speleers’s Charlie is less formed. As a result the transition from selfish and self-centred to relationship forming lacks gravitas. It is too easy to find empathy in Charlie’s easy-going nature to be convinced of the change created in his relationship with Raymond.
In this, the stage version misses the comparative scene from the film. In the film the relationship between Raymond and Charlie’s is benchmarked in the breakfast scenes. The maple syrup needing to be on the table first, moving from Charlie’s aggressive response toward Raymond to one where there is a sense of warmth and humour.
Overall, Rain Man leaves a feeling that there is more which can be achieved. Matthew Horne’s performance creates a sense of where this production could be. Improvement is needed to ensure the stage provides a compelling reason to enjoy this production more than the screenplay.
You can see Rain Man at the New Theatre, Cardiff until Saturday 15th September 2018.
Disclosure: We received tickets for the production for the purpose of this review. All opinions and views contained are our own.