Theatre review - Rain Man, The Lowry, Salford

Rain Man @ The Lowry
Image: Lloyd Evans

Rain Man @ The Lowry Image: Lloyd Evans - Credit: Archant

The 1988 movie, starring Dustin Hoffman as Raymond and Tom Cruise as his brother Charlie, is a hard act to follow, but this show is definitely worth the watching

Rain Man is the tale of Raymond, a man with autism and his brother Charlie, who had completely forgotten his existence until their father’s death, when he discovers that Raymond was moved to a special care facility when Charlie was very young. Charlie is an angry man – his relationship with his father was non-existent and when he learns that he has received nothing in his Will, sparks fly. He’s selfish, arrogant, insensitive and wholly inconsiderate of the needs or emotions of others. He ‘kidnaps’ Raymond from the home he has known for decades and they set off on a road trip from Cincinnati to LA, while Charlie seeks to claim his ‘fair share’ of Raymond’s $3m inheritance. As you can predict, his attitudes change and his relationship with Raymond, the Rain Man of the title, changes dramatically.

Of course, the move was released in 1988 and for most that was our first introduction to the concept of autism or the autistic spectrum. In hindsight quite a lot makes for difficult viewing, and the stage version is desperately uncomfortable at times, as Charlie bullies his brother mercilessly and even violently. We’re watching of course through better educated 2019 eyes and the play maintains its 1988 storyline – and terminology. Prepare to flinch and to wonder if perhaps it’s time to review the script, or at least how different characters react to Charlie’s attitudes. Back then, it was a lesson in acceptance and brotherly love. Today, perhaps it’s more – a lesson in how those considered ‘normal’ can show lack of empathy, a refusal to connect on an emotional level and to put their own needs before anybody else’s, just as our generalised idea of somebody with autism might be. As a society we’re changing, and not before time, but we’ve still a way to go before the world feels safe for people like Raymond.

There are moments of horror, when Charlie is being simply awful to his brother. There are moments of humour, when yes, it’s okay to laugh when Raymond takes himself into Charlie’s bedroom and mimics his love-making noises, as long as we know we’re laughing at Charlie and the payback for his insensitivity. There are moments when your heart swells – the dancing, the care Charlie eventually shows – and there are moments when you appreciate that this is a story set in 1987, but that still resonates today, in our knowledge of and attitudes towards those people who do not fit society’s rather narrow definition of ‘normal.’

On the night I saw this, the role of Raymond was played by Adam Lilley, who gave it a good go. Perhaps a few too many physical ticks for comfort, but his timing was perfect and his delivery spot on. Charlie is played with great force by Chris Fountain and the contrast between the two is absolute.

If you loved the film, you’ll enjoy the stage play. The 80s music, the fashions, it’s all there and done well. Be prepared for feeling a little odd on occasion though as you realise how far we have come in three decades – and how far we still have to go.