Everything is an adaptation now. Whether it's Phoebe Waller-Bridge's blistering Killing Eve screenplay from Luke Jennings' Villanelle novellas, or Fantastic Beasts & Where To Find Them from JK Rowling's backstory notes, or Great British Bake-Off: The Musical (ok, not a thing), new things are often a reworking of something else. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. Books get turned into films. Plays get turned into films. TV shows get made into musicals (they really do) - and in this case, movies get made into plays.
Adapting an iconic film - Rain Man, the 1988 classic starring Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman - into a play is a great challenge. There are so many scenes from the film that are memorable, and the script for this adaptation showing at the Palace Theatre is incredibly faithful.
Starring Mathew Horne (best known for his role in Gavin & Stacey) and Ed Speleers from Downton Abbey, this play tracks two brothers - one, Charlie (Speleers) a shouty, hard-nosed wheeler-dealer and the other, Raymond (Horne), who has autism. In 1988, people didn't know as much about autism as they do know. The film was groundbreaking in that way. To see it played out now, in 2018, with Horne's play-by-play of Dustin Hoffman's vulnerable, brilliant Raymond in his dorky zip-up jacket and baseball card shuffling isn't unproblematic.
It sat oddly with me that Raymond's autistic behaviours became big laughs in the audience. Call me over sensitive, but I'm not sure that's the intention of this story. But I don't think Mathew Horne was playing it for laughs - and to his credit, his performance (which can't have been easy to play with constant tics, movement, and barely any eye contact with any of his fellow actors) didn't waver.
The play moves sets quickly with doorways, beds and desks on wheels and each scene break is symbolised with an 80s power tune, which worked well to give it a sense of time. The 80s was so iconic, brash and over the top with aspirational glitz that it would have been impossible to showcase that without ridiculously huge sets, and you just can't do that with a play. The music took the place of that, reminding you that this is the 80s (along with stone-wash jeans and Charlie's girlfriend's incredible side ponytail which I had a lot of time for). The use of a blue-light-glow and muted television voices was inspired to show Raymond's TV shows - you really believed he was watching Wheel of Fortune.
For me, some films aren't made to be plays. But what I will say is this: for lovers of the film, this is such a verbatim version of the film that you will love it. It's like watching a covers band play your heroes' best song note-perfect. Mathew Horne commits 100% to this role, and his Hoffman-esque performance shows Raymond's vulnerability, and his confusion at the world that Charlie disrupts.
A stand-out scene for me was probably one of the most iconic in the film (and much more appropriate for laughs) - when Raymond, upon entering a diner, sees the waitress's name tag, recites her telephone number and address because he's memorised the phone book. He also bumps into the same waitress who spills toothpicks on the floor, and with a single glance counts them exactly. The waitress played a blinding cameo here ("You should be on the TV!").
The acting was good, the 80s tunes were on point, and they did well to try to create a sense of scene with minimal set pieces (something I always really admire in theatre). Some films just don't translate to the stage and I did feel this here, but you may well disagree with me. But if you loved this film, go and see this play. A few hours of escapism in the theatre is never a bad idea.
Rain Man is showing at the Palace Theatre until Saturday 29th September.
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