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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Rain Man
Apollo Theatre      Autumn-Winter 2008

Another play based on a hit movie, another fading Hollywood star looking for renewed credibility by appearing on the London stage. The question is, Is it worth the effort and the cost of a ticket? And the answer is a firm Maybe.

The film is the 1988 Tom Cruise - Dustin Hoffman vehicle about a cold and self-centred hustler who discovers he has an autistic brother who has spent his life in an institution.

Because the brother comes with a $12 million inheritance, the guy kidnaps him, but in the course of a cross-country drive they bond. The autistic brother comes a bit out of his shell, and the cold one softens and discovers the ability to love.

It's a lovely fable, it won Oscars, and it made strong men go dewy-eyed. But does putting it on a stage, with American Josh Hartnett in the Cruise role and Brit Adam Godley replacing Hoffman, add much or even recreate the same effect?

Partly, and in sometimes surprising places. Though both stage actors occasionally slip into imitations of the film stars, Adam Godley makes Raymond more alive than Hoffman did, finding more of an emotional range within the tight bounds of autism.

His Raymond has degrees of happiness and unhappiness, and so we can watch the tiny and subtle changes that mark his slow process of encountering and coping with the world.

You have to look past the external mannerisms that might have been copied directly from the film to see and appreciate some very fine and finely-tuned acting.

Josh Hartnett, on the other hand, is considerably less alive than Cruise was in the film. Granted, his Charlie is meant to be a cold fish at the start, but there has to be some hint of a life behind the dead eyes for the character's emotional journey to bring out.

Too much of the woodenness we see is the actor's rather than the character's, and even the milestones in Charlie's discovery of an emotional connection aren't the powerful moments they should be.

One scene works beautifully, when Charlie realises that he does have some half-buried childhood memories of Raymond, which he had thought belonged to an imaginary friend, the Rain Man.

Perhaps because Hartnett plays the scene in near-silence, because it asks nothing more of him than he stand still and let us see the realisation bubble its way to the surface of his consciousness, he pulls it off and Charlie becomes momentarily more real than he is at any other time.

Certainly none of the other turning points - when he teaches Raymond to dance and wins enough trust to be able to touch him, when he can finally tell his girlfriend that he loves her, when he fights for Raymond before a court-appointed psychiatrist, or when he is willing to give him up to avoid hurting him - resonate as much as that one quiet moment of remembering.

Dan Gordon's stage adaptation is serviceable, moving things along through a series of brief scenes made fluid by Jonathan Fensom's design of quick scene changes, punctuated by moments of pinspotting or physical framing to give the effect of cinematic close-ups.

Mary Stockley isn't given a whole lot to do as Charlie's girlfriend, though Colin Stinton convinces us that Raymond's doctor (and Charlie's adversary) is an honourable man. A handful of actors play Everyone Else without particularly registering.

Director Terry Johnson replaced another midway through rehearsals, but the seams don't show - however uneven the performances, the evening is all of a piece in tone and style.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review of Rain Man - Apollo Theatre 2008

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