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One of the original hellraisers brought to life: Rob Crouch as Oliver Reed at the Subscription Rooms in Stroud

By Gloucestershire Echo  |  Posted: January 11, 2013

By Jonathan Whiley

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AS far as hellraisers go, he's up there with Richard Harris, Richard Burton and Amy Winehouse.

There aren't many people who are said to have consumed 126 pints in the space of 24 hours, or used a bottle of Chanel No 5 as a chaser after drinking four crates of wine.

But then again, actor Oliver Reed was an extraordinary man.

It's perhaps fitting then that the show which pays tribute to his life is named Wild Thing.

The play by Mike Davies and Rob Crouch – who plays Reed – bursts into life at The Subscription Rooms in Stroud next Thursday.

Directed by Kate Bannister, the blistering solo show sees Reed as he knocks back his favourite tipples and shares his incredible life story.

"It's set in the pub and Olly is telling his life stories so there are flashbacks too," Rob, 41, says. "There was a spectacular rise to fame and then a fast demise almost into obscurity before his role in Gladiator.

"There's been a really warm reaction to the show and that's because he has a legion of fans still out there. People love that he refused to compromise.

"There was one young guy who said it made him really angry that someone with so much talent could squander it like that."

There are plenty of anecdotes and stories to share from Reed's life.

Diplomatically put, he enjoyed what you might call a 'colourful' lifestyle.

From the boyhood excitement of learning he was a descendant of Peter the Great, through to the success of Oliver!, boozy adventures with Keith Moon and disastrous chat show appearances – his was a life that was taken to the brink on many occasions.

His drunken appearances on chat shows became the stuff of TV legend. They began in 1986 when he was interviewed by Michael Aspel.

He arrived staggering, slurring and carrying a large jug of what many suspected to be gin and orange before insisting on singing Wild Thing with the studio band.

Embarrassment didn't stop there.

On one occasion at a smart restaurant in France, Reed grew impatient at the lack of service.

Turning to his friend, he's reported to have said: "I'll show you how to get some service" before hurling a chair through a window into the street.

Within a matter of seconds the manager and five waiters surrounded the table.

"Ah, yes," Reed said. "I'll start with the fish soup, please."

This extraordinary act was one of many to litter his life, Rob recalls.

"He was once at a party and decided to take a chandelier on to a boat and put it on a tree on a small island in the middle of a lake, just because it would look nice," he says. "That has to be one of my favourite stories. He was expected to be outrageous.

"He was a very difficult person, but if you were in a pub you wanted to be at his table.

"If you were in a restaurant with your partner, I'm not sure you'd want him to be there at all."

The show hasn't been without its challenges, with an unexpected appearance by Reed's son proving a daunting prospect.

"We found out that his son Mark was coming to see it and that was pretty scary at first," Rob says.

"But he really liked it and we met other members of his family.

"It did prove a bit of a challenge trying to find things out. It's not like nowadays with the media and kiss and tell stories so we had to read a lot of biographies."

It was Reed's legendary binge drinking sessions which led to his death in 1999 at a Maltese bar.

He collapsed after a boisterous drinking and arm-wrestling session with a group of sailors.

At the age of 61, he was mid-way through filming blockbuster Gladiator, a film tipped to resurrect his acting career.

It's in Malta that Rob Crouch brings Reed back to life in a swaggering evening of entertainment.

Buy a ticket, order yourself a drink and sit back for one heck of a ride. It starts at 7.30pm and tickets cost from £13. Call 01453 760900.

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