Theatre Royal Windsor (venue)
01 May 2019 (released)
01 May 2019
When I settled into my seat at the theatre, my big question was “Is it possible to translate this Oscar winning film into a successful live play?”. The standing ovation at the end of the performance gave me a resounding “Yes!”. I would argue that ‘The Classic Screen to Stage’ theatre company have actually improved on the film.
The play launches with Chris Fountain as Charlie Babbit dominating an office scene, the embodiment of a late 80s obsession with materialism. He’s an unlikeable character, bursting with an aggressive desperation to make money. We see how dislocated he is from feeling basic emotions when he fails to show any remorse upon hearing that his father has died, he’s merely frustrated that the news has spoilt his plans for the weekend.
Charlie’s greed and sense of injustice lead him to discover a family secret. The main beneficiary of his father’s millions is Raymond, an autistic savant brother whose very existence had been hidden from him. Since the original film was first released over thirty years ago, there has been much debate about the impact of its’ depiction of autism and whether it is enlightening or a limiting stereotype. I think one key benefit is the way we are drawn to Raymond. It develops our own humanity to experience how we can relate to someone so ‘different’ and seemingly socially dysfunctional. Adam Lilley brings this fascinating character to life with amazing attention detail. Every element of his Raymond, from the way he moves to his ranging tones of voice, take us on a journey from agonising through funny to heart-warming.
Charlie ‘kidnaps’ Raymond, demanding his share of the inheritance as his ‘ransom’. The brothers embark on a trip across America, a metaphor for the wide internal space they each cover as they learn about themselves and discover the deep connection they share as siblings. The lighting, set design and props are cleverly utilised to take us from Raymond’s institutional home in Connecticut to brightly sparkling Las Vegas.
The soundtrack of this production is brilliantly selected. The Doors’ “People are Strange” perfectly evokes the uncomfortable awkwardness between these two brothers when they first meet. We enjoy a span of songs from across the decades taking us from the boys’ childhood to the eighties. Every tune underlines the emotions of the story, the steps to self-awareness and the burgeoning relationship between the brothers. Raymond learning to dance to “At last” and experiencing his first kiss to “They can’t take that away from me” are poignant scenes punctuated with a great choice of music.
This is a compelling tale touching the core of human connection and the enduring power of sibling love. Take tissues if, like me, your eyes have a tendency to get a little blurry.