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Review Round-up: Godley Steals Hartnett’s Rain?

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The premiere production of Rain Man, the stage adaptation of the 1988 Oscar-winning film, opened at the Apollo Theatre on Friday (19 September 2008, previews from 28 August), ten days later than originally scheduled due to a last-minute change of director (See News, 1 Sep 2008).

The play stars Hollywood pin-up Josh Hartnett (pictured), making his stage debut as Charlie Babbitt, and British stage actor Adam Godley as his autistic brother Raymond, the roles played on screen by Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman. When Raymond is released into Charlie’s care, Charlie tries to harness Raymond’s genius to save his business and the brothers embark on a rollercoaster journey beyond the hospital gates.

Rain Man is adapted by Hollywood screenwriter Dan Gordon and directed by Terry Johnson, who took over from original director David Grindley. The full cast also features Colin Stinton, Mary Stockley, Charles Daish and Tilly Blackwood.

Overnight reviews at the weekend were something of a mixed bag, though overall the balance of opinion was more positive than negative. There were some predictable grumblings about the pointlessness of screen-to-stage adaptations and the “vastly inexperienced” Josh Hartnett, though he fared better than many of his Hollywood peers who’ve tread the boards here. Some critics were quick to praise his “riveting” performance as being “as strong as Tom Cruise on the screen”, though most felt it was his co-star Godley who stole the show. Godley’s “unforgettable” turn as the autistic Raymond drew few complaints - “a mix of floppy toy monkey and a dogmatic stickler-for-routine old lady” being amongst the more creative descriptions.

  • Roger Foss on Whatsonstage.com (four stars) – “Dan Gordon’s stage adaptation, skillfully directed by Terry Johnson on a series of sliding, sparsely furnished sets, teams Hollywood stage virgin Josh Harnett with vastly experienced British actor Adam Godley as the Babbitt boys and wisely steers clear of replicating the central road movie structure of the movie … Hartnett acquits himself surprisingly well in his stage debut, but it’s a pity that he tends to shy away from depicting the stormy side of Charlie … As Raymond, Godley creates an extraordinary sense of heart-wrenching empathy in his pitch-perfect evocation of a socially disabled man capable of astonishing feats of memory … There’s a surprising amount of laughter in Godley’s enthralling performance too – Raymond’s monotone mantra ‘I don’t know’ turns into a kind of running gag and there’s some terrifically funny dialogue … It’s not long before both actors wipe away memories of Cruise and Hoffman. But it’s Godley’s unforgettable pin-drop scenes which stand out and may well leave you reaching for the Kleenex … Rain Man hits all the right emotional buttons and is more than just another West End screen-to-stage hybrid.”

  • Charles Spencer in the Daily Telegraph – “This show struck me in advance as a serious misjudgment by the producers … Miraculously, this version, adapted by Dan Gordon and directed by Terry Johnson in a series of anonymous Pinteresque rooms, works superbly. Indeed, I was more moved and amused by the show than the film. This has a lot to do with the communal atmosphere of the theatre. You can feel the whole house getting behind Adam Godley\'s performance as the autistic hero who cannot bear to be touched, is overcome by twitching, yelping panic attacks whenever his routine is interrupted, yet somehow, sometimes, conveys a sudden grace and generosity of spirit … With his hoarse, almost mechanical voice, sticky-out ears, gangling limbs, and sudden, heart-stabbing glimpses of empathy, Godley manages to be deeply affecting without excessively milking the pathos … Poor Josh Hartnett, making his professional stage debut, cannot compete with this, but his initially monotonous performance of belligerent anger grows in confidence and depth. The scene when the two estranged brothers recognise and remember each other is beautifully played.”

  • Michael Billington in the Guardian (two stars) – “What is the point in adapting movies for the stage in the age of the DVD? Even by the lowly standards of a genre that includes Terry Johnson\'s The Graduate, Dan Gordon\'s version of Barry Morrow\'s 1988 screenplay strikes me as thin stuff … Josh Hartnett, a rising American movie star, is perfectly competent as Charlie. He has, however, little chance to show the character\'s hard-edged, neurotic frenzy since, well before the interval, his affection for his lost sibling has materialised … The showcase role is that of Raymond, which won Dustin Hoffman an inevitable Oscar and which Adam Godley inhabits with comparable finesse. He conveys Raymond\'s dependence on routine and habit with subtle skill and fills his performance with expressive detail … Terry Johnson directs competently, and Jonathan Fensom\'s design even echoes the dimensions of a movie screen. But it is still a manipulative story which does less than the programme-notes to enhance our understanding of autism. Given its dependence on a movie original, the play also, unlike the fortune-sacrificing Charlie, eventually settles for half.”

  • Benedict Nightingale in The Times (three stars) – “Though Dan Gordon’s adaptation doesn’t add anything to Barry Levinson’s film, there’s one good reason for seeing it. That’s not the Hollywood star Josh Hartnett, though in many ways he’s as strong as Tom Cruise on the screen. It’s the British actor Adam Godley, who more than matches Dustin Hoffman’s Oscar-winning performance … Hartnett’s problem isn’t that he lacks the casual egoism his role demands or overdoes the warmth he begins to feel for Raymond. It’s that his admirable energy has an unfortunate side-effect … Terry Johnson, who directs, should help him to slow down and unjam this verbal grand prix. But he should do nothing to change Godley. With his spindly, bent body, his gawky shuffle, his wizened, frowning face, his fits of hand-fluttering panic and long moments of utter stillness, Godley’s Raymond looks far more the victim of long-term damage than Hoffman. He sounds that way, too, half-bleating his refrain of ‘don’t know’. You never doubt that he is as cut off as a hermit on an iceberg. It is sometimes funny, often touching and always distressing.”

  • Nicholas de Jongh in the Evening Standard (four stars) – “Dan Gordon’s theatre adaptation of the Rain Man movie not only improves the original, it introduces to the West End a Hollywood heartthrob as charismatic on stage as screen. Yet Josh Hartnett’s riveting performance as Charlie Babbitt rises high above the erotic and the star cannot be written off as theatrical Viagra or even a 100 percent herbal alternative … While Dustin Hoffman’s brilliant Raymond on film was played in a minor key of detached self-absorption, with sudden screams of distress and agitated mutterings that chilled the heart, the versatile Godley renders Raymond as disappointingly gross and grotesque, from lumbering walk to jerky speech … Jonathan Fensom’s design glides from airport to hotel and to the point when Charlie realises that what links him to Raymond is the psychic damage they both suffered. Hartnett’s Charlie is too withdrawn to let slip his feelings, but it becomes clear he understands that only by committing his life to Raymond can he save himself from solipsistic rage and materialism.”

  • Paul Taylor in the Independent (three stars) – “Hartnett\'s inexperience is at its most damaging in the silences which punctuate and accelerate the tentative growing rapport between the siblings. These silences are nerveless absences of speech here rather than the charged moment of intensity that they should be. And when Hartnett speaks, he can\'t always wrap his mouth crisply enough round the fast-talking dialogue. Godley, though, is an anguishing joy. His Raymond has all the premature elderliness of the permanently precocious. He looks like a mix of floppy toy monkey and a dogmatic stickler-for-routine old lady. He comes across as a being infinitely marooned in a vast loneliness that it would be harrowing to plumb. Ideally, you would want from Hartnett some suggestion that Charlie, though on the ball and in full use of his balls, has complementary emotional difficulties. That, though, would require a balance of talents less lopsided than those arranged for us by the esteemed producers.”

    - by Theo Bosanquet

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