Last orders

The life and wild times of Oliver Reed: 22 Brandy Alexanders, 126 pints and no hangovers

Rob Crouch as Oliver Reed

Rob Crouch as Oliver Reed


Oliver Reed – Wild Thing
Pavilion Theatre, Dublin
For different interpretations of the life of Oliver Reed, the celebrated drinker, brawler and talk-show staple (he also acted), just look at the titles of his biographies. We have his own modest words, Reed All About Me ; the wide-eyed reports of Hellraisers: The Life and Inebriated Times . . . ; or, if you prefer to combine vicarious living with stern finger wagging, Evil Spirits: The Life of Oliver Reed .

Mike Davis and Rob Crouch’s play makes a cocktail of those approaches: two parts sensation to one part insight. Orotund and plummy, Crouch appears with that familiar Reed expression, between serene and startled, to give us the man in his own words (many taken from Reed’s writings and interviews).

Al though he arrives to the bar (where else?) in a gorilla suit – the first of many talk-show references – this version of Reed is a more conventional story teller, bound by the Edinburgh-Fringe sanctioned rules of the well-made biographical solo show. We have a potent location (Malta during his last movie, Gladiator ), a breezy chronology, and an adventurous metaphor for life as a series of intoxicated stages: verbose, jocose, morose, bellicose.

Through a series of well-sculpted anecdotes – the oxygen of talk shows – we get a rush of Reeds: t he class dunce with illegitimate ancestry and an implacable father; the star who learned acting from the screen and the pub, clawing from schlock to success; t he notorious figure wrestling naked in Women in Love , goading TV audiences with studied chauvinism, and somehow partying as hard as Keith Moon; and then, finally, the debauched figure of fun in need of a comeback.

Is it accidental, or a very subtle tribute, that a show about an actor with no stage experience should itself seem so unsure about the theatre? Crouch, for instance, drinks real beer throughout, but from the tiniest bottles imaginable. Just like the patchy set, crude lights, unnecessary plumes of a smoke machine or occasional sound effects, director Kate Bannister’s production seems utterly indecisive, and only Crouch is persuasive. He is best, oddly, when inviting audience members onstage to substitute for absent figures, a surprising tactic befitting Reed’s impish spirit.

He is also, finally, horribly drunk, and it’s the closest we come to an unauthorised dark side. Alt hough Reed here recognises his self-created role as a fantasy of endless, painless excess, the show doesn’t pry much deeper, repeating those legendary details of 22 Brandy Alexanders or 126 pints consumed in a night, without wondering what sort of w ild t hing actually keeps count? That makes it engaging but unchallenging; a story of countless wild times without a single hangover.
On tour until May 25th