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Rain Man at Cambridge Arts Theatre: A road movie play with performances that go the distance

PUBLISHED: 10:59 09 October 2018 | UPDATED: 11:35 09 October 2018

Rain Man: Ed Speleers as Charlie, Mathew Horne as Raymond, Neil Roberts as Dr Bruener and Elizabeth Carter as Susan

Rain Man: Ed Speleers as Charlie, Mathew Horne as Raymond, Neil Roberts as Dr Bruener and Elizabeth Carter as Susan

Robert Day

As Raymond, the savant would say: This is definitely the best play at Cambridge Arts Theatre this year. Definitely the best play....

The first night audience at the venue stood up to applaud and Cambridge audiences rarely give anyone a standing ovation, I say rarely, I mean never.

As Raymond, the savant would say: This is definitely the best play at Cambridge Arts Theatre this year. Definitely the best play....

The first night audience at the venue stood up to applaud and Cambridge audiences rarely give anyone a standing ovation, I say rarely, I mean never.

Like the 1988 film, Rain Man, this beautifully written play by Dan Gordon, is about two brothers, one, a charming, though up-tight, car salesman, Charlie, who is crazily going bankrupt in Los Angeles and Raymond who is severely autistic and living in a care home in Cincinatti.

Cynical Charlie doesn’t know he has an older brother until their father dies and Charlie discovers that an inheritance of three million dollars - which could have “saved his arse” - has been left to Raymond.

Incensed, Charlie travels from Los Angeles to Cincinnati to sort things out.

He takes Raymond out of from the care home and, because Raymond refuses to fly, they set off on a road trip. The play is about their six days together, during which time, hard-hearted Charlie starts to bond with his brother.

Raymond’s inability to express his emotions brings out the humanity in Charlie and Raymond has his horizons widened just a little.

The performances here are superb. You believe they are brothers and you believe the very different worlds they live in. Speleers power-drives the play from start to finish. The speeches are worthy of the great American playwrights, Arthur Miller and Edward Albee.

Speleers - a television actor, in what is astonishingly his stage debut, owns these lines with energy and stature. He shows the character’s strength and his vulnerability, his stubbornness and finally, his insight. He brings to the stage the flesh and blood of fine American drama.

It is the signature of autistic people to find difficult things easy and easy things difficult. Raymond can memorise the names and numbers in phone book. He remembers everything he has ever seen or heard but he cannot cope with the everyday fluctuations of life and especially not changes or being touched. Everything is repetition, he rocks all the time, he repeats phrases. He needs this to stop his mind blowing a fuse.

Mathew Horne embodies this so well that you see Raymond can never be any other way, however much Charlie wishes it. Raymond has insights, he has unintentional humour - but he cannot exist without the routines he clings to that have become a protective shell.

Horne’s is a bravura performance. From the first moment he appears and consistently throughout, Horne is a master of the character and therefore of the stage - bringing spontaneous applause on his first exit.

There was excellent support too from Elizabeth Carter as Charlie’s girlfriend Susan, Neil Roberts as Dr Bruener, who is passionate about keeping Raymond at the care home and Adam Lilley as the lawyer, Dr Mooney. and psychologist Dr Marston.

Plaudits should go also to an ingenious set by Morgan Large. With its simple, geometric style, it evoked the 1980s and effortlessly changed from office to bedroom to airport to motel to care home and a formal meeting room.

We loved this play. We watched it with baited breath, we laughed a lot, and felt uplifted. Good performances like this are refreshment for the spirit, an infusion of happiness. Like Raymond, I won’t forget a moment of it.

Rain Man is at Cambridge Arts Theatre until Saturday, October 13. Tickets are available for £20 for performances up to and including Thursday, October 11 with the code: CASINO20. Call 01223 503333 or see: www.cambridgeartstheatre.com.

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