It takes guts to reprise a role on stage performed with such distinction in the original movie it secured the portraying actor (Dustin Hoffman) an Oscar – An accomplishment he achieved in the 61st Academy Award ceremony (1989). A lead actor performance that possibly usurps those of the other 89 winners of the accolade, prior to and since.

Yesterday evening I witnessed Mathew Horne (Gavin from TV comedy Gavin & Stacy) take to the stage embarking on that very task. Portraying savant Raymond Babbitt with endearing humour and moving melancholy from his character’s stage entrance up until it’s emotive and inevitable ending.

Sitting in a packed stalls area prior to the matinee performance, I was full of admiration for Horne at taking on this role, but feared for him. I’d imagine convincingly playing a character with a mental illness to be a challenge in itself. However, when you’re doing it alongside inevitable comparisons to Hoffman’s majestic portrayal of Raymond Babbitt the pressure must ramp up a notch or two.

Of course, not everyone who’s lucky enough to witness this Classic Screen to Stage Theatre Company production had seen the Oscar winning movie to draw those parallels.

For instance, on walking out of the auditorium, I overheard a confused lady in her dotage tell her friend that she couldn’t compare Horne’s performance to Hoffman’s portrayal as she’d not seen the film. Adding “The only movie I’ve seen Dustin Hoffman in was the one where he played that Mrs Doubtfire.”……. I think she meant Tootsie…… If the elderly theatre goer did actually mean Mrs Doubtfire, she clearly hasn’t seen Hoffman in any celluloid offering whatsoever.

Mathew Horne’s performance didn’t reach the Hollywood gentry levels of his Los Angeles born fellow actor. To be fair to him, though, it couldn’t have done. However, he did exhibit the character’s vulnerability and savant skills so convincingly at the show’s conclusion I felt like asking him to join me at the card tables in Eastgate casino……. Or at the very least count the audience number for me, so I could add that into this narrative for completeness.

Ed Speleers, played Raymond’s self-centred younger brother Charlie Babbitt. A man whose arrogance and cold demeanour gradually melts enough to form a connection with the autistic brother he never knew he had.

Later on, even thawing enough to teach Raymond how to dance ready for his “Don’t call me, I’ll call you!” date. The results of these lesson were barely the stuff of Strictly Come Dancing (I suspect irascible judge Craig Revel-Horwood would have dubbed it a “Dissaaaaassster!”) but it was heart warming to witness the ice man melteth.

I’d never previously witnessed Ed Speelers’ dramatic wherewithal, however his accomplished portrayal (in the role played by Tom Cruise in the 1988 movie) was well worthy of mention in dispatches. Additionally, sitting watching him on stage, it randomly dawned on me an anagram of his name is very nearly Speed Eels. A title I concluded that’d be a great name for a kid’s cartoon.

Anyhow, my wife Karen and I thoroughly enjoyed our afternoon jaunt, where our bedfellows were the smell of the greasepaint, embalming oil*** and the sound of falling toothpicks. A production every bit as enjoyable as the movie.

*** – I’m unsure where the smell of embalming oil came from, but as yesterday was Halloween it unsettled me!…… In all truth, though, the aroma may just have been my new aftershave Dug Up.

Bravo Classic Screen to Stage Theatre Company team for your sterling performance – With particular plaudits to Mathew Horne and Speed Eels.