Just back from a blistering night’s theatre at one of my favourite Islington venues, The King’s Head Theatre Pub, where the entertainment is always of the highest standard. ‘Oliver Reed: Wild Thing’ is a one-man show about the life & times of the original hell-raiser, performed brilliantly by Rob Crouch, who also co-wrote the play. Set in 1999, the year when Reed died (in Malta, whilst filming ‘Gladiator’), we meet Reed as a rambunctious 61 year old still living life to the full – and I mean to the full: this is a man who, together with his 30-strong entourage, consumed 60 gallons of beer, 32 bottles of scotch, 17 bottles of gin, four crates of wine and a bottle of Babycham on his stag night.
As you might expect, this is a bitter-sweet story: Oliver Reed was one of the best British actors ever to grace stage and screen, but throughout his life he battled many demons, alcoholism being just one of them. In ‘Wild Thing’ we travel the length and breadth of Reed’s life, getting insights into the strained relationship he had with his sports journalist father (Oliver himself excelled at sport but never managed to earn his father’s praise, much though he yearned for it), his friendships with the likes of Keith Moon, Michael Winner and Peter O’Toole and his frustration at becoming, in later life, better known as a legendary drinker rather than as an actor.
There are plenty of humorous moments, including Crouch acting out, together with two members of the audience, the classic moment when a furious Shelley Winters poured a glass of whiskey over Reed’s head during an appearance on Johnny Carson’s ‘The Tonight Show’ (you’ll have to go and see the play to find out why).
I came away with mixed feelings about this talented but troubled man: appreciative of his genius and the film legacy he left behind, but saddened that his life came to such an untimely and undignified end – he collapsed and died mid-way through a drinking competition that he’d been pressured into joining, not having had a drink for several months. Surely not, ultimately, how he would have wished to have been remembered?