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Review: Rain Man – funny, poignant, uplifting

If you only know Mathew Horne from his TV roles in Gavin and Stacey or The Catherine Tate show, get to the New Theatre this week for a revelation – he’s playing Raymond Babbitt, the autistic savant character in a new stage production of the 1988 movie Rain Man.

Horne steals the show in the role which won Dustin Hoffman an Oscar, and which prompted a standing ovation and a couple of curtain calls at tonight’s opening performance (Monday September 10th).

He plays opposite another familiar face to TV viewers, Ed Speleers (Downton Abbey, Wolf Hall) in what most of us would call ‘the Tom Cruise role’, Raymond’s manipulative hustler brother, Charlie.

This is his stage debut, and he impresses in a demanding role – he’s barely off-stage for a start, and he manages to convince us of Charlie’s transition from exploitative money-grubber to compassionate and loving brother.

This is the first production from The Classic Screen to Stage Theatre Company, and it builds on a tradition for successful film adaptations from the Bill Kenwright stable, including The Shawshank Redemption and Twelve Angry Men.

Written for stage by Dan Gordon and directed by Jonathan O’Boyle, the play roots us firmly in the ’80s, featuring the distinctive fashions and music of the time, as the pair travel across the US from Ohio to LA.

The story tells of Charlie and Raymond’s relationship, which develops from purely financial – Charlie removes his brother from the institution where he has spent most of his life in order to get his half of the fortune – to something much deeper.

It’s often funny, sometimes poignant, and at times heart-breaking, but ultimately uplifting, thanks largely to that stunning central performance by Horne as the autistic ‘Rain Man’ with his encyclopaedic memory, but little understanding of the ways of the world.

Rain Man runs at the New Theatre until Saturday (15 September) and tickets are available from the box office on (029) 2087 8889 and here.

Review by Andrew Weltch

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