A NEW play offers a vivid insight into the life of famous British actor and bon vivant Oliver Reed, framed in a Maltese pub on the last day of the turbulent actor’s life.
The play, Oliver Reed – Wild Thing, comes to Limerick in May as part of an extensive Irish tour and off the back of rave reviews at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
Written by Mike Davis and Rob Crouch - the latter who portrays Reed - it tells the hellraising actor’s incredible life story from the perspective of the last day of his life, framed in a pub in Malta in 1999 where he was filming Ridley Scott’s Gladiator.
Crouch explains that the piece is meant to feel as if “he is there holding court and telling you these stories, and we flash back and present these stories and hopefully it gives a full picture of the man”.
The play does not shirk away from the darker aspects of Reed’s life, and interestingly has the full support of Mark Reed, the actor’s son.
Rob says: “We don’t glorify what people might perceive as being the darker parts of his life, and it is important to say that wasn’t the majority of his life.”
“We just present the story and we like people to make up their own minds about what they feel about it. People come along and see the show and learn something about a man who they had a respect and affection for, but weren’t perhaps sure about the whole history of. That has been really pleasing for us and a lot of fun.”
The reaction to the production is perhaps unsurprising, given the movie star’s famed magnetism, something Crouch refers to as “a real sense of power, a sort of animal magnetism that he brought to the cinema”.
“That caused him to be a massive success and the drinking and the lifestyle went along with that, and perhaps got a little bit out of hand and became the thing people fixated on,” says Rob.
Mark Reed went along one night to see the play and aligned himself with it, and believes there is an upsurge in interest in his late father.
“It is not something I usually do, I don’t really associate with press or anything that has gone on since his death, but I saw the play and it has a resonance about it and it meant something,” he says.
“It was sensitive, intelligent, and didn’t just dwell on the fanfare of notoriety that we have all heard and seen. It was much more about trying to work out what he was about, what made him as he ways, telling more of a story about him and the lesser known facts.”
‘Ollie’, as we was known, fuelled the legend himself, drinking uproariously and making dishevelled appearances on TV chat shows, and his son explains that the play does not shy away from that portrayal.
“Someone was going to do this and it seemed only correct that I associated with it, that, if it was going to be done, these were bright intelligent people doing it,” he says.
“It doesn’t mean that it is nicely polished and very gooey soft piece, not at all, but it is real and considered and there is a sense that it is trying to figure out what made him tick, what was the man about.”
Mark Reed admits it was “surreal” to see Rob portray his father, but not more so than his life to date.
“I have seen it a couple of times, and yes it was surreal but then, if you imagine, much of my upbringing has been a bit surreal,” he laughs.
“At the age of three, when I first saw my dad on telly, I thought everyone’s dad was on the telly, I grew up with it being that way.
“When you talk about how everything these days is sterile and boiled to its utmost whiteness, whereas he told a story more of himself than of a product. He shunned going to premieres and the limelight - it was a job, and when it was finished, he just wanted to go and play with his friends.”
Oliver Reed - Wild Thing opens in the Lime Tree on May 18.