WHEN we first meet Rob Crouch's uncanny recreation of the late, great Oliver Reed, he's wearing a gorilla suit. "What do you have to do to get a drink around here?" he asks.
Good thing he's walked into a pub. This is May 2, 1999, and the Maltese watering hole which the actor has chosen to visit on his day off from shooting Ridley Scott's Gladiator will be his last. It's 10am. By 2.30pm, Reed will have suffered a fatal heart attack. No time to waste.
Less a reconstruction, and more An Evening with Ollie Reed, Crouch (co-writer and performer) plays by his own rules, sketching out a series of rambunctious tales and anecdotes to the last circle of friends that Reed would ever make. 'Paul the barman' (a nervous punter) included.
This is a one-man show, yet Crouch treads into stand-up territory. And comedians are never truly alone on stage. Moustache trimmed, his grey hair combed to the side, he relies on a handful of audience members to take on the roles of real-life supporting players. All of which sounds amateur and a tad too scattered to work. But it's a fun ride, and besides, the source material is anything but straightforward.
If, indeed, Crouch wished to portray Reed as a sensitive type whose bravado and raging alcoholism got in the way of showing depth and emotion, he's gone the wrong way about it. It tries to be serious, but Oliver Reed: Wild Thing is better at playing for laughs, its lone storyteller hitting the right notes when taking in some of the more ludicrous chapters of this hellraiser's life.
Getting hammered with Keith Moon; wrestling with director Ken Russell over Women in Love's most famous scene; shocking late-night chat show audiences throughout the Eighties and Nineties. In fact, Crouch re-enacts the infamous Aspel and Company appearance so perfectly, you fear he's been possessed by the ghost of Reed himself.
Using an assortment of sound effects, swift costume changes and a crate of alcohol, the telling of Ollie's life story is, at times, a bold imitation.
More often than not, however, it's a remarkable portrait of a hugely entertaining individual.
Touring nationwide until May 25. For more, visit www.olliereedtheplay.co.uk