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TX: 18.09.08 - Autism on the Stage

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Hey look Ray I live in Los Angeles, I was thinking maybe you'd like to come to Los Angeles with me, see a Dodger Game, go to Dodger Stadium, see the Dodgers play.

Today's an off day.

Well we don't have to go today Ray.

A new stage version of Rain Man has its world premier in London tomorrow, adapted from the 20 year old Hollywood film about wheeler dealer Charlie Babbit who invites his autistic brother Raymond on a road trip to Los Angeles. Raymond has lived in an institution all his life but is an autistic savant with an amazing ability to recall numbers, something his brother, Charlie, will try to exploit at the Black Jack tables of Las Vegas. But first he has to persuade Raymond to make the trip.

I was just thinking maybe you'd like to come see the Dodgers, you know Joe Tory's the new manager.

Monday, no game scheduled.

Well I was just thinking maybe you'd like to come to Los Angeles with me. See Brad Penny, he's a hell of a pitcher.

Brad Penny's out with an injury, not scheduled to return until Thursday.

Thursday - he's going to pitch Thursday?


I'm not doing anything Thursday.

Yeah Thursday. Of course I have to pack my backpack, definitely have to pack my backpack and my pencils - have to pack my pencils in my backpack.

I could you pack your pencils in your backpack.

And my notebook and my lists and my ruler.

Notebook, lists, ruler - done. Let's go see Brad Penny.

And my camera.

And your camera.

And my boxer shorts.

World's full of boxer shorts Ray. Let's go to LA.

Yeah. Go to LA with Brad Penny. Find a boxer shorts.

Adam Godley there as playing autistic savant Raymond in this new West End production, together with Hollywood star Josh Hartnett as Charlie. Adam Godley's here.

Barry Morrow won an Oscar for his screenplay Adam, on which Dan Gordon has based this stage version, but what were your first thoughts when the role was suggested?

Well I was very - I was very excited by the prospect of it because one's always looking for an interesting story originally told and it seemed to me that the story of these two brothers who for very different reasons are emotionally disconnected if you like and are thrown together on this road trip and really sort of find each other and find an emotional connection was a fascinating one.

Did you know about autism before?

I knew absolutely nothing about it.

So how did you prepare?

Well I saw my job as to try and start to educate myself about it. So I sort of grabbed every book I could find and tried to get hold of every documentary that had been made about it. Read and watched all of that. I spoke to a psychotherapist who deals mainly with adults with ASD. And then once we started rehearsing I had the opportunity to spend a day down in Godalming in Surrey with - at a residential care facility for adults with autism and that was fascinating and very enlightening for me.

Well writer and broadcaster Michael Blastland is well known to You and Yours listeners, he number crunches for us on occasion, trying to get to the truth of statistics, so he's got a job for life, but he's also the author of Joe, the only boy in the world about bringing up his own autistic son and you went to see a preview of this production last night Michael, what did you think of it?

I thought it was fantastic. It was very moving. A little artistic licence - you expect that, that's fine. This big question Adam talks about - can two people who are for very different reasons deep down selfish, as selfish as people can be, find some way of establishing an emotional rapport.

One is selfish through choice - that's Charlie - and one is selfish presumably because of the condition?

Well that's an interesting question - is it through choice, his family background is very unfortunate but one way or another he turns out a pretty unpleasant character at the beginning of the play.

But having said this, I mean this is, as you say, autism has a spectrum and this autistic savant is just one point on that spectrum. I'm taking it this is not at all like your experience with your son, he's not amazing with numbers, you couldn't take him to Las Vegas and win a fortune?

He has certain talents, I mean that's for sure, his memory is exceptionally good but it is a common misperception I think, this conception that if you have an autistic child, the question that irritates a lot of autistic parents is oh and what's their special talent then. It is extremely rare - the savant - is a very unusual character. Even the person on whom the play is based was not actually autistic - Kim Peek, a Korean American, he has all sorts of developmental oddities about him and he is remarkable - he really does have these phenomenal mathematical ability but he's not autistic. We do have an autistic savant in this country, a chap called Daniel Tammet who best known for reciting Pye to 22,500 decimal places from memory or for learning Icelandic in a week and he's a lovely engaging guy and remarkable in many ways.

But I just wondered too, you know, things have moved on, the film is 20 years old and think I set even earlier than that and autistic people don't live in institutions anymore, they tend to be much more independent and integrated, they're diagnosed far more accurately, they're treated far more effectively, have you got any problems with that Adam?

Well the specifics of the drama of Rain Main is that the character, Raymond, has been institutionalised for all of his adult life, for 26 years, so he's a special case. And my understanding of autism is that every individual with autism is completely different, there's no one sort of blanket statement you could make about them. So in a way that gave me licence to create a very specific person who is Raymond, who has been institutionalised, has lived in a very regimented, rigid environment for all of his life. And what's interesting in our drama is that he's pulled out of that and he's thrown into what for him is a very chaotic and terrifying world with this rather selfish person who's his brother.

What do you think attracts writers to autism?

Well I guess you're always looking to tell a story and take the audience on an interesting journey and take them to a place that is unfamiliar to them and to an emotional territory that's unfamiliar to them. And I think with any of the dramas that we could name that deal with people with a disability or a difference you're hoping to expose people to that difference and hopefully help them to understand.

Because we've had, Michael, Mark Haddon's The curious incident of the dog in the night time, Rain Main won four Oscars, it's interesting that this is a subject for ...

Oh there's almost an autism lit category nowadays, there's Daniel isn't talking - Marti Leimbach; Eye Contact. Other films as well - Snow Cake with Sigourney Weaver. There's quite a lot of fiction about it and a torrent of self help guides, you know the things you can do to pull your child out of autism. And it is fascinating I think because they are so different and they challenge so many of our own ways of thinking, so the standard one is that I have a sense of what you, by your behaviour, have in the back of your mind, I can interpret your behaviour, I can work out what your intentions probably are, I can do a subtle sort of mind reading. They can't do that. And that's the sort of dislocation that Adam's talking about, you know these two character, can they connect when the fundamental difficulty about autism is this inability to connect with other people.

Michael Blastland and Adam Godley thank you very much indeed and Rain Main premiers tomorrow here in the West End.

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