Oliver Reed Wild Thing – at St James Studio

Rob Crouch as Oliver Reed

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”

Rob Crouch as Oliver Reed

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.


Rob Crouch as Oliver Reed

About Fiona Jane Weston

I am Fiona-Jane Weston and as well as being a performer myself (see website), I write reviews of and features on shows, mainly on the London cabaret and theatre scene. I have worked in theatre for many years, but decided to embark on a new direction in cabaret in 2009, when I produced 20th Century Woman: The Compact Cabaret. Not wanting to neglect my love of spoken word, particularly drama and verse, I made the conscious decision to include these elements in the programme, as well as wonderful songs, to tell the story of women's changing status and preoccupations throughout the 20th Century and up to now. I was invited to audition for the renowned Cabaret Conference at Yale, run by the late legendary Erv Raible, and that was thrilled to be one of only 26 accepted that year, where I was taught by the masters of the genre. Amanda McBroom (composer of the Bette Middler hit "The Rose" and the poignant "Errol Flynn"), Laurel Massé, original member of Manhattan Transfer, Sally Mayes, Tony Award nominees Sharon McNight and Tovah Feldshuh, and New York cabaret veteran Julie Wilson were all on the faculty. We were also treated to the musical direction of Alex Rybeck, Hubert Tex Arnold and the now late Paul Trueblood. With the benefit of their insightful teaching and great encouragement, I took my show to The Duplex in New York, where I was delighted with the response. Since then, I have produced Loving London: The Capital Cabaret, using the same format of songs, poetry and drama, in various London venues, including Leicester Square Theatre and The Crazy Coqs. 2014, the centenary of World War 1, saw the launch of Wartime Women: the Khaki Cabaret to a sellout house at St. James Theatre, London, garnering great notices, including from The Times and Musical Theatre Review. I have since been touring the show to Belgium and throughout the UK. I hope these reviews and interviews entertain and educate at the same time, and if please do leave comments in the box. It's great to engage in a conversation about the Arts. Fiona-Jane Weston
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