Review - Oliver Reed: Wild Thing at St James Theatre, London
Oliver Reed - actor, prolific boozer and professional hellraiser - had a life and career so talked about to the point where he became like a mythical ancient god found in fables of romp and drama. Even if you know nothing about the drinks and the punch ups, Reed’s film roles showed a one-off individual who left a lasting impression. My first introduction to “Ollie” Reed was in Oliver! as brutal criminal Bill Sykes - a dark scary presence amongst the gaiety of ‘Oom-pah-pah’. For other audiences, a first Reed experience could have been 'Women in Love', which bore the first ever male full frontal nude scene in British cinema, or the heavily censored 'The Devils' with its explicit themes of sex, violence and religion.

Oliver Reed: Wild Thing, written by Mike Davis and Rob Crouch, is a full throttle of a solo show with the gob-smackingly energetic co-writer Crouch in the title role. In the intimate studio of St. James Theatre appropriately fitted with a bar, a gorilla suited figure armed with soda syphon (which he’s not afraid to use on unsuspecting punters!) bursts through to the throngs of The Trogg’s 'Wild Thing'. From the very start you know you’re in for a thrilling and bumpy ride.

Addressing the audience from Malta in 1999, with death lurking just around the corner, Crouch’s Oliver Reed takes us on a colourful journey from childhood through to film stardom and raucous TV appearances. Reed is an extraordinary character  - a descendant of Peter the Great (which thrilled the young Reed) and dyslexic who only excelled at sport. After leaving school, Reed escaped to a vibrant London and worked as a bouncer in a Soho strip club before going into national service. Upon deciding on an acting career, Reed shunned any formal training and instead chose to carefully observe people he encountered. During his career, Reed refused to work on an image or “play the game” (marketing and media training in today’s showbiz world) to get ahead. Throughout the play’s narrative, it is clear that Oliver Reed had always been a true maverick.

Rob Crouch doesn’t just play Reed - he is Reed! The commanding voice and the face, shifting from fierce to gentle and back, are akin to a spirit possession. Convincing also is how Crouch transforms when going through Reed’s life stages - from sporty schoolboy with a disappointed intellectual father to philandering excessive tabloid star to an ageing man bitterly and desperately refusing to go gracefully. The entire spectrum of emotions are squeezed into this 70 minute play - anger, excitement, humour, intimidation, bittersweetness and passion to name but a few. The audience sympathise and laugh with Crouch’s Reed but at the same time fully aware that he could turn at any minute like a ferocious big cat.

Oliver Reed: Wild Thing is a must regardless of whether you’re a Reed fan or not. Rob Crouch’s performance is outstanding and captivating with hilarious and engaging audience interaction. A play that is the equivalent to spending the night at the pub with your favourite, if a little non-PC, uncle with extraordinary tales to tell and who loves a drink or dozen.

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