Rain Man/Malvern Theatres

CHARLIE Babbitt is a hard man to love. He wheels, deals and struts about his company’s office like a rooster on a dung heap.

Oh yes. And he swears continuously, as you might expect. He’s that now - thankfully – virtually extinct species the 1980s alpha male manager, the adrenalin and testosterone junkie-dinosaur that those of us with long memories once loved to loathe.

Some news arrives at Planet Babbitt. His father’s died and left a seriously big bundle of dosh. Trouble is that it’s all going to autistic brother Raymond, because the former treated his father so shamefully that he’s now been disinherited.

So Charlie, being the slime ball that he is, decides to take his sibling on a road trip to prove how much he cares. Subtext – how do I take advantage of bro and get those mitts on my share of the loot?

Chris Fountain is wonderfully repulsive as Charlie, a man who knows the value of most things and the worth of nothing.

And yet… as Dan Gordon’s engaging take on Barry Morrow’s morality tale progresses, we witness a sea change slowly coming about.

For this is a symbolic as well as a literal journey, with the formerly callous and cynically calculating Charlie becoming a much better person along the way.

He is a latter day Saint Paul on the road to Damascus, a sinner ripe for conversion and redemption.

Adam Lilley as the challenged Raymond delivers a stunning performance, all the more noteworthy because of his taking over the part from Paul Nicholls, currently indisposed because of illness.

Lilley is utterly convincing as a person with a condition that would seem, judging by the tone of the play, is still not fully understood.

Elizabeth Carter as long-suffering Susan mercifully dilutes the dose of male hormones in the air to more manageable levels. She plays the part of Charlie’s girl friend with admirable stoicism, displaying endless endurance in the face of his monstrous machismo.

Rain Man is a dramatic masterpiece that leaves you thinking about the sheer complexity of the human condition, its mysteries and foibles. It runs until Saturday (February 9) and is well worth seeing.

John Phillpott