From Downton to Devonshire Park with a stage debut for Ed Speleers

Rain Man at Devonshire Park Theatre
Rain Man at Devonshire Park Theatre

Don’t miss the south east’s first ever opportunity to see Rain Man as a stage production - the brand new adaptation from Bill Kenwright’s The Classic Screen to Stage Theatre Company runs at the Devonshire Park Theatre, Eastbourne from September 18–22.

It stars Mathew Horne of Gavin & Stacey fame as Raymond, and former Eastbourne College pupil Ed Speleers (Downton Abbey) as Charlie Babbit.

When self-centred salesman Charlie Babbitt discovers that his long-lost brother Raymond, an autistic savant with a genius for numbers, has inherited the family fortune; he sets out to get ‘his half’. Charlie ‘borrows’ Raymond from the institution where he has spent most of his life and the two brothers embark on a trip across America where Charlie soon discovers that Raymond is worth more than he could have ever imagined.

Inspired by the heart-warming Oscar-winning film, which famously starred Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman and won Oscars for Best Picture, Best Screenplay, Best Director and Best Actor, Rain Man follows previous acclaimed Bill Kenwright productions of films to the stage such as A Few Good Men, The Shawshank Redemption and Twelve Angry Men.

Ed Speleers spoke about acting in the stage version: “It’s a really fun, heartfelt story that will make you laugh, but then, when you’re not expecting it, it will hit you right in the heart. It’s a family story about a man finding himself. He takes a road trip with the autistic brother he’s only just found out exists.

“It’s about tolerance and acceptance and understanding. That’s hugely relevant now, as we’re living in a world where we’re all moving further apart.”

Of following in such large footsteps in playing Charlie Babbitt, he commented: “My mum is a big Tom Cruise fan. I was shown films like Cocktail and Rain Man early on in life, so I was very familiar with it. But we’re trying to keep the film and the play quite separate. If you get too bogged down in the movie, you either feel you need to do imitations or the pressure of its legacy.

“Charlie’s hurting. He’s deeply unhappy. I had to ask, “How do you get to be as volatile as he is? What does it take for someone to leave a very comfortable, affluent home at 16?” It’s a lack of love, and it leads to his need for adoration and to prove to the world he’s number 1. There’s fight in him and a showman element too.”

This is Ed’s first role on stage and he said: “It’s a juggernaut of a role to debut with, but why not? It spoke to me in so many ways. I’ve always wanted to do stage. How much do you really know about yourself as an actor if you can’t do it live? It was just a case of finding the right piece, and this is definitely the right piece.”

Ed has been looking forward to bringing the tour to the area and said: “Brighton is an old hangout of mine, so I’m looking forward to that week. I went to school in Eastbourne, now I’m going to play the theatre there where I saw Eddie Izzard perform. So those two are exciting because they’re nostalgic.”

He became well-known playing Jimmy Kent in Downton Abbey and commented: “That was sort of a drama school for me. I had the luxury of being both upstairs and downstairs. Upstairs, I didn’t have a lot to say, but it was a great place to watch because you’d be with Maggie Smith, Hugh Bonneville, Penelope Wilton and Michelle Dockery regularly. If you can’t learn by watching them, you’ll never learn. And if you aren’t watching them, you need to get out of this business.”

Performances at 7.45pm with Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday matinees at 2.30pm. Tickets £19-£28 available from 01323 412000 or eastbournetheatres.co.uk.

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