A man in a giant gorilla suit bounds on stage, beats his chest, grabs a beer and drinks. This is Oliver Reed: larger than life, hugely entertaining and almost always on the lash. ‘Wild Thing’ is a drink-sozzled beast of a one-man show. It’s as exhilarating as a huge night out, with just the hint of a bitter aftertaste.
Oliver Reed was one of a kind: a brute of a British gentleman, a belligerent intellect and a superb actor who loathed the pantomime of celebrity. He’s a tough act to follow – but Rob Crouch embodies Reed’s contradictions brilliantly. Above all, Crouch is charming as hell. He also doesn’t shy away from the ugly stuff; there’s the occasional fiery outburst and alcohol-fuelled meltdown.
We learn about Reed’s athletic past, indifferent father and early experiences in the movies. All the Hollywood greats are mercilessly sent up. The script, written by Crouch and Mike Davis, is restless, spicy and peppered with slicing quips. Jack Nicolson is described as a ‘balding midget’, Rada lovingly dismissed as ‘The Royal Academy of Arse’.
Director Kate Bannister keeps the production low-key; Reed’s mighty charisma is more than enough. As he downs beer after beer, the booze slowly makes its presence felt. His puppet-like limbs take on a life of their own, and Reed, such a fine performer, finally loses control of his act.
By Miriam Gillinson