OLIVER REED : WILD THING
Oliver Reed :Wild Thing- Gilded Balloon 3.30pm
Leaping onto the stage encased in a gorilla suit, Oliver Reed- a well captured performance by Rob Crouch who both looks and sounds the part- gyrates drunkenly to the electric strains of ‘Wild Thing’ by the Troggs. What follows is an hour and fifteen minutes one man performance set in a pub-where else?- chronicling the rise and (drunken) fall of the legendary actor who could have had it all but instead took what he wanted and raised merry hell with it.
The tale is told from the perspective of Oliver Reed before his untimely death during the process of filming Gladiator. It unfolds as he is drinking –even going as far as asking front row audience members to join him- and the largesse and huge charisma we associate with the man and his legend are all in place as he recalls an incident on a chat show when Clive James asked him why he drank. His response was pure Reed and showed that the façade of pretence most other stars of his calibre shroud themselves in constantly eluded him.
The story is a fascinating one and peppered with legendary names such as Ken Russell, Ridley Scott, Michael Winner and Bette Davis who after appearing in a film with he was then asked onto the prestigious Johnny Carson show. This appearance was contoversial for his dinosaur attitudes of male chauvinism and provoked a response from fellow guest Shelley Winters which has gone down in Hollywood folklore as legendary. Along the way we are taken through the famous nude wrestling scene in Women in Love, auditioning for Gladiator and various other drunken shambolic chat show appearances.
It would also seem that the cosseted life of a star and its attendant ever circling satellites of fellow celebrities were not something which ever attracted Reed. He instead preferred ‘life in the raw’; that is real people and real situations and when not working this is the company he sought out. Never moving to Hollywood-despite advantageous tax and income temptations- he remained in England and never attained the mega-star status or salary of some less deserving contemporaries.
It is an amazingly well scripted show –by Mike Davis with assistance from Crouch- and Crouch’s performance is a tour de force. He captures perfectly the clipped enunciation and diction of actors of that particular era and somehow appears to be getting drunker and drunker- to great dramatic and comedic effect- as the production unfolds. When the bar rings its closing bell it is obvious that this is last orders for Reed- who died whilst out drinking with friends. Hellraising until the end, this show captures the pathos of a great man who lived his life exactly as he wanted to.