entertainment

Quentin Letts: Why everybody loves Raymond


Rain Man (Theatre Royal, Windsor & touring) – poignant and gripping 

Rating:

Pericles (Royal National Theatre) – worthy effort 

Rating:

Theatre can provoke intensely personal reactions, as some of you tell me when I criticise shows that you have loved.

The new touring production of Rain Man — a story best known for a 1988 film starring Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise — is not perfect. Technically, it is probably a three-star job, but as I left Windsor’s lovely Theatre Royal on Wednesday night I had a great lump in my throat. The evening had touched me to the core, so let’s reach for a fourth star.

The new touring production of Rain Man — a story best known for a 1988 film starring Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise — is not perfect. Technically, it is probably a three-star job, but as I left Windsor’s lovely Theatre Royal on Wednesday night I had a great lump in my throat

The new touring production of Rain Man — a story best known for a 1988 film starring Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise — is not perfect. Technically, it is probably a three-star job, but as I left Windsor’s lovely Theatre Royal on Wednesday night I had a great lump in my throat

The new touring production of Rain Man — a story best known for a 1988 film starring Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise — is not perfect. Technically, it is probably a three-star job, but as I left Windsor’s lovely Theatre Royal on Wednesday night I had a great lump in my throat

Wide-boy Charlie Babbitt is a failing car-dealer in Eighties Los Angeles. He badly needs money. When his estranged father dies, Charlie thinks he is in for a windfall, but the old man’s fortune is left instead to Raymond, a brother Charlie never knew he had.

Raymond is a savant, quite severely on the autism spectrum. He has an amazing memory, but his social abilities are limited.

This is where I need to do some personal explaining. Thirty years ago, I met a beautiful girl and took her to the flicks. The first film we saw was Rain Man. Neither of us had heard of autism.

That girl became my wife and it so happened that our first child, Claud, was found to be on the autism spectrum. We have looked back at that first cinema trip and wondered if it was a portent.

In Rain Man, Charlie kidnaps Raymond and takes him on a roadtrip. At first he is exasperated by Raymond’s odd ways, but after a week the jackass car-dealer has turned into a loving, proud brother. The so-called able one has learned from his disabled sibling.

In Jonathan O’Boyle’s production, Charlie (i.e. the Tom Cruise part) is played by Ed Speleers, a Downton Abbey actor making his theatrical debut here.

He’s a handsome lad, but I’m afraid his stage inexperience is rather laid bare in a confusing opening scene. He needs to lift his pace and enrich his voice, too.

Things pick up when we meet Mathew Horne’s Raymond and his care-home doctor (Neil Roberts, bringing an instant air of reassuring medical experience).

Mr Horne, best known from TV’s Gavin & Stacey, hurls himself into the part of Raymond. This is a fine performance, leavening the vulnerability with quirks and humour.

The economics of touring theatre being what they are, the staging is spare and the cast is tiny. Yet once that sluggish first scene is out of the way, and despite a spattering of bad language, the story grips.

AND THE audience falls for Raymond, just as his brother does. By the end, the good people of Windsor were on their feet, some with tears in their eyes.

The show took me back not only to that first date at the cinema three decades ago, but also to the early diagnoses we heard from medical professionals who examined our son and seemed sometimes to be speaking to one another rather than to us.

We were given glum predictions about how Claud would be limited for his whole life.

Maybe we and he were lucky, maybe the medics were wrong, but he has turned out to be a fine, fine lad, in some ways more sociable than his father.

Life doesn’t always turn out for the worst.

A merry crew steer this Shakespeare home to safety 

On London’s South Bank this week, six professional actors joined an amateur cast of 120 for one of the year’s fizzier Shakespearean shows.

Not that there was much raw Shakespeare in this Pericles. The text was substantially gutted and replaced by modern songs.

We had a gospel choir, Bulgarian folk singing (rather good), kazoos, a barn dance clap-along, Indian Bhavan drumming, cheerleaders, a Ska band and more.

Shakespeare’s story of a sea-tossed hero whom fate bats from shore to shore was bent to a message about refugees and multi-culturism and how we should all be kind to one another.

The whole thing ended with the entire cast on stage — an impressive sight — singing ‘there can be no home where there’s no heart’.

As a one-time am-drammer, I am all in favour of community theatrics. Taking part in a play, front or back-stage, can be tremendous for bonding, self-esteem, emotional discovery and general sodality. The civilians who participated in this Pericles will never forget it.

Ashley Zhangazha kept things rolling along with his title performance and he was well supported by Audrey Brisson playing Pericles’s daughter, Marina, in adulthood.

As in community pantomimes and school plays, there were ‘ahhs’ from the audience (many of them family members, I suspect) when smaller child-actors did their stuff.

Performers were clapped for taking part, and that is fine. The evening’s philosophical message, after all, was that anything is valid.

The National staged this show under an outreach initiative called Public Acts, and it certainly opened its physical stage to a wider range of actors.

 



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