Burning Both Ends: When Oliver Reed Met Keith Moon by Matthew Broughton

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BBC Radio 4, 8 December 2011
Throughout his career Oliver Reed had a reputation for outrageous behaviour. He made a memorable drunken appearance on the ITV chat-show Aspel and Company (in a sequence voted the 90th greatest television moment of all time in a Channel 4 poll in 1999). In the Channel 4 late-night discussion programme After Dark he made a pass at the writer Kate Millett, uttering the phrase "Give us a kiss, big tits" as he did so. Reed's biographer Cliff Goodwin believes that Reed was not as drunk as he appeared to be in these appearances, but rather put on an act for the viewers' benefit.
Matthew Broughton's Burning Both Ends attributed Oliver Reed's (Sean Pertwee's) behaviour to a meeting with Keith Moon (Arthur Darvill) during the filming of Ken Russell's Tommy in 1974. At that time Reed found himself increasingly frustrated with the endless round of cocktail parties and interviews associated with the film world. He yearned to do something outrageous; and found the perfect opportunity to do so in Moon's company. The two of them experienced a series of riotous adventures which involved throwing a chair through the window of a local pub, fighting a group of local Hell's Angels, and sinking a rowing-boat on a stormy night, and subsequently swimming back to the mainland.
Broughton constructed the play as a first-person narrative told in the present day, in which Reed came back from the dead and invited listeners to hear his story, with the proviso that he was a "dedicated spinner of yarns." As the action unfolded, however, we began to doubt the veracity of this statement: Reed's close relationship with Moon encouraged the film star to "embrace madness" and "play his own game, no one else's" by making him realize that he did not want "normal." The two men's antics helped Reed discover something about himself; that he should be "an entertainer taught by the master."
When Reed re-encountered Moon in Los Angeles later on, Moon's persona had changed. Whereas once he enjoyed outrageousness for its own sake, now he was quiet, moody, and prone to occasional bursts of violent temper. This probably had a lot to do with his giving up alcohol and relying on drugs instead. Reed was surprised, almost hurt by this transformation, but it did not affect the way he behaved.
The play ended as it had begun, with Reed and Moon coming back from the dead to reflect on their lives. While we were warned not to trust too much in the two men's "vivid imagination," Reed admittted that the key to Moon's character lay in the violent, almost primeval rhythm of his drumming. The rock-star threw a "bright and lovely light" on the film-star's life, helping him understand the importance of living life to the full. It did not matter whether Reed burned the candle at both ends, so long as he took pleasure in doing so. Broughton suggested that this was the key to Reed's character; inspired by Moon's example, he relished every opportunity to maintain his reputation as a hell-raiser in private and (more significantly) in public.
Sean Pertwee gave a remarkable characterization of Reed, whose aggression was often tempered by childlike gentleness. Darvill's Moon proved an ideal companion for him; happy in one another's company, the two men encouraged one another to behave more and more outrageously.
Entertainingly directed by Sam Hoyle, Broughton's play examined the lives of two complex characters who never actually harmed anyone. I thoroughly enjoyed it.