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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

 
RAIN MAN
at the Apollo

HE'S NOT HEAVY, HE'S...
By CLIVE HIRSCHHORN

  Josh Hartnett and Adam Godley/Ph:Alistair Muir

On paper it would seem that the only word to describe turning Barry Levinson's blockbuster 1988 film Rain Man into a stage play, is reckless. How can a road movie, starring two superstars such as Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise, and which relied so heavily on its locations, be comfortably shoe-horned into the confines of a small space?

It would be difficult enough to do so even with its original stars in place. Which, of course, isn't the case. Instead of Cruise we have Josh Hartnett, an American hunk with absolutely no stage experience whatsoever, and in the Hoffman role, Adam Godley, a fine actor but hardly a household name.

Yet, strangely, it works -due to the compelling nature of the material and to the two central performances.

Hartnett plays Charlie Babbitt, a hotshot car-dealer on the verge of financial meltdown, and Godley is his brother Raymond, an autistic savant (he can memorize an entire phone book) who, for the past 26 years has been living in an institution.

When the play opens Charlie is faced with a double whammy. His estanged father has died, leaving all of his fortune to Raymond, whose existence Charlie wasn't even aware of.

As in the film, the play charts the relationship between the two brothers, a futile pursuit given that Raymond is incapable of emotional involvement with anyone.

It is Charlie who, over the course of their six day odyssey, changes from an insensitive boor whose only conern is to get his hands on a share of his father's fortune, to a genuinely caring - even loving -sibling willing to devote his life to the well- being of his remarkable brother.

The play, adapted by Dan Gordon from Barry Morrow's screenplay, updates the action to the present, inflates Raymond''s inheritance from $3 million to $12 million, and ends ambiguously with the possibility that Raymond might - just might -have bonded with Charlie.

This is a mistake. The film ends with Charlie, a creature of habit, returning to the institution, totally unaffected by his six days with Raymond. To indicate otherwise is to ignore the very nature of autism and betrays the material.

That said, the play is both gripping and enjoyable. Though Hartnett has a tendency to garble and swallow some of his words (especially in the frantic opening scene), he soon settles down and, for someone who has never acted on stage before, gives a decent, even moving, performance.

In the showier role of Raymond, the more experienced Adam Godley is terrific. He's just as good as Hoffman - and, it has to be said, more sympathetic and likeable.

Though the play is not a two-hander, Terry Johnson's direction focuses mainly on the dynamic between the two brothers, and although Jonathan Fensome's designs cannot compensate for the loss of the film's "road" element, it navigates its way around the narrative efficiently enough.

Rain Man, the play, is no world-beater. But as a piece of crowd-pleasing commercial theatre, it'll do nicely.

 


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