Bounding on stage in a gorilla suit, within seconds there is a drink clasped in Oliver Reed’s (Rob Crouch’s) hand. Crouch seamlessly interacts with the audience, heckling them across the theatre, dragging some on stage, and even casting some as former acquaintances (with re-enacted script reading ensuing). You are unlikely to escape unscathed by his sheer force of personality, or without beer splashing you from across the room. Humour is rife – members of the audience invited on stage are thrown off promptly: “Come on…you’re not the main event!”
Crouch enters the stage to The Troggs’ Wild Thing (a fitting title for the play considering Reed’s infamous antics). For 70 minutes we are taken on a whirlwind recitation of Reed’s life. It is a spoken autobiography enacted solely by Crouch – a nonstop monologue fuelled by drink after drink. How Crouch is able to maintain his focus and imbibe so much shows his determination to embody Reed from start to finish.
The play is set towards the end of Reed’s tumultuous life: he is in Malta for his final scenes (in Ridley Scott’s Gladiator and in life). At various points, Crouch shrouds himself in Reed’s former famous appearances. We see brief glimpses of his life as a school boy, his family ties to Peter the Great (Tsar of Russia), Gladiator, the bar brawl that nearly ruined his acting career, Oliver! (accompanied by shrieks of “Bull’s Eye”), and The Three Musketeers.
Comparing himself to a warrior, he proclaims: “Beer and whiskey are my weapons, the press my baying mob.” Crouch manages to adapt Reed’s distinctive clipped enunciation into that of a drunken slur as the evening progresses. We hear the legendary tales of Soho in the 1950s, of parties with Keith Moon, and of Reed’s misogyny (“most women are happy in the kitchen”), where the audience joyfully boo him as a pantomime villain.
With pride and poignancy, Crouch tells us: “You deny [Reed], you destroy the British film industry,” referring to his steadfast dedication to remaining a stalwart of the British institution of hell-raisers, who die younger than they should. Crouch (alongside Mike Davis) created the play, and his admiration of the humour, charisma and talent of Reed is apparent. As we hear the announcement of Reed’s death ringing through the theatre, Crouch adds: “One more for the road…”
Our rating: *****