An arrestingly forthright show about life as a rent boy, Bleach proves one of the VAULT Festival’s more compellingly acted one-man show
“Do I look like a piece of meat to you”
Truth be told, there’s not the hugest amount of originality to Dan Ireland-Reeves’ Bleach – the literal ins and outs of an aspiring rent boy feel two-a-penny (though maybe that speaks more to the kind of plays I pick to see…) – but what does set it apart is the fierce commitment with which he performs his monologue, and the unsparing complicity he demands from us as his audience.
That kind of connection is vital to the success of a one-man-show, to create the kind of atmospheric storytelling that pulls the audience into the palm of their hand and then dares them to look away. And that’s what’s on offer here with the story of Tyler – a young lad from the sticks who moves to London and, tired of scratching a living as a waiter in Chinatown, hops over Shaftesbury Avenue to become a rent boy in Soho, as you do.
What follows ultimately has a slightly melodramatic feel to it as (some of) the horror stories about this line of work come true. But where it shines best is in the quieter details of Tyler’s life – the simultaneous erotic thrill and pulsing fear of being attracted to a schoolmate, the variety of his client base and their needs, the exploration of what being a sex worker does to your moral code.
It is in these moments, of unfussy clarity, that Bleach is most powerful. Ireland-Reeves pinning you down with his uncompromising delivery, and the kind of eye-contact that makes you believe he’s talking to you and you alone. If I were being picky, I might ask for a touch more psychological depth – Tyler’s relationship with his mother feels ripe for a deeper dive – but it is still an arrestingly forthright show.