Rowan Atkinson has returned in spectacular fashion to the West End - his first time on the boards for 12 years. He has taken the lead in "Oliver", a role he has always cherished, and the 48-year-old doesn't disappoint.
When Atkinson first announced that he would be starring in the play, some expressed surprise, but this truly is a role made for him. "To the British movie-goer Oliver Reed was an icon, and it's a real thrill to bring his life-story to theatreland" explained Atkinson before the show.
Dressing for the part in beer-and-vomit-stained jacket and trousers in his cramped dressing-room at the Theatre Royal, Rowan has noticably "bulked up" for his role as the hard-drinking, womanising knucklehead. He had also started smoking again (he gave up 15 years ago) for authenticity as Reed was an 80-a-day man.
The play opens in the war-torn East End of London, where Reed, one of 8 children to a penniless wastrel mother and father, was dragged up. It was expected that the young Oliver would follow his elder brothers and father into the pot-mending and tinkering business, but after seeing Sir Arthur Nimble on stage (he had sneaked in through the exit), the young Oliver decided that acting was how he would earn a living from then on.
By a combination of hard work and luck (mostly luck), Reed became one of the most-loved Bright Young Things of the sixties cinema, starring in one about Hannibal and one about the Rockies. During this time he got a taste for alcohol, and his last 30 years were just a fog of drunken appearances on TV and the occasional film.
Rowan Atkinson has done a brilliant job of bringing to life this larger-than-life character, with just the right combination of shouting, drinking and fighting. This one will run and run.