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A CurtainUp London Review
Making his West End, and indeed his professional stage debut is Josh Hartnett, following the pattern of US stars finding their stage feet in London, whether in pursuit of kudos, the practicality of shorter runs offered by most London theatres or a mark of caution. Olivier-nominated actor Adam Godley joins Josh Hartnett, adding his own stage experience and competence to the production. In spite of rumours surrounding the withdrawal of the first director David Grindley, this version of Rain Man quickly recovered and replaced him with Terry Johnson, whose film to stage credentials include One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and The Graduate.
The well-known story is fairly simple: two orphaned brothers, one emotionally disconnected through a harshly lonely upbringing and the other through autism, discover first each other and then the depths to their connection and learn to open up their emotions in their own peculiar ways. Josh Hartnett, in the role created by Tom Cruise, plays Charlie Babbit. A stressed businessman on the point of losing everything, he has a precariously overstretched business and a girlfriend disengaged by his lack of commitment and intimacy. Mercenary, exploitative and brutal from engrained isolation, Hartnett captures well this character's unsavoury aspects without belying the possibility of redemption. His psychological journey towards consideration to others and greater emotional self-awareness is both convincing and, peppered with humour, not overly sentimental.
Adam Godley's performance as autistic savant Raymond is an acting showcase in textured compassion, remarkable when portraying a character whose condition means that he is alien to sympathy himself. In an earthy and unpretentious performance, Godley manages to achieve a complementary chemistry with his co-star and, with his own finely strained vocal sincerity, avoids a mere reprisal of Dustin Hoffman's Oscar-winning incarnation.
Although the central performances remove the story somewhat from the film version, the design and direction return to a sense of cinematic scope. Updated to the modern day, Jonathan Fensom's sleek sliding sets have more than a passing resemblance to the 1980s era and Terry Johnson's direction reproduces the fast-paced, brash energy reminiscent of cinema. Moreover, Johnson emphasises the similarities between the two brothers: their emotional detachment from others as well as their parallel journeys.
The tale is heart-warming and poignant with its funny moments but the fact is that this stage adaptation is also a fairly indolent artistic endeavour. With little innovation or risk, this Rain Man could be seen as quite a cynical, ticket-selling venture. Nevertheless, this solid production is watchable and enjoyable with good lead performances and will undoubtedly prove popular with audiences.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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