Rob Crouch gives a blistering portrayal of wild and fascinating actor Oliver Reed at St James Studio
“..gorilla is his chosen metaphor ..engages and repels us”
Mike Davis and Rob Crouch’s one man show on the larger than life actor Oliver Reed opened in Edinburgh 2012 attracting much deserved acclaim.
Entering to the sound track of The Troggs song “Wild Thing” in a gorilla suit, it soon becomes apparent that the gorilla is Reed’s chosen metaphor for not feeling he fits in with the more gentlemanly public school sort of actor, nor in environments where certain social niceties are expected to be adhered to. No, this is a man who prefers the company of hard drinking companions ready to laugh and fight whenever the mood strikes.
It seems Reed developed a taste for drink at an early age helping his mother entertain soldiers after the war. Dyslexic at a time when this condition was deeply misunderstood, the only thing he was able to excel in at school was athletics, which impressed his father not one jot. He put up a protective barrier by becoming a bully, and as this dynamic, imaginative, undervalued boy became a man, the barrier of bravado became ever more massive until it ultimately engulfed him.
A descendent of Peter the Great and Herbert Beerbohm Tree, he had much in common with them, not least drunkenness and a love of drums. His visceral savagery combined with a child-like curiosity and roguish charm made him the person and actor he was, with all his primitive sexuality and glorious magnetic hugeness.
Good or bad, there was nothing mean or ‘mingy’ about Reed, and neither is there about Crouch’s portrayal of him. Capturing the man’s danger and volatility, he fills the stage with large presence, engages and repels us, scares us, particularly when embarking on audience participation, and yet still treats us with generosity.
What particularly struck me was Crouch’s movement. Masculine, direct, large and only ‘rangey’ when drunkenly out of control, it seemed oddly to embody the actor famed for his stillness and powerful inner life.
The play itself drops pace in the last 10 to 15 minutes and loses its way somewhat. The linear structure of the writing traps this last section into a series of unattractive drunken bouts– rather as the man himself became trapped by public expectation of such behaviour. Just the same, we are left with the feeling we have been in the presence of someone great, and for all his boorishness and (manufactured?) sexism, it has been exciting and indeed great fun to have shared his company.