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Review of Bleach at the Garden Theatre 2021

Back in February 2019, I saw a show at the Vault Festival (Remember that) that really affected me in ways I was not expecting. The blurb about a rent boy in London, didn’t feel that promising, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. The play was amazing, and the performance left me with a real sense of seeing something special. Step forward two and a half highly traumatic years and Lambco Productions have revived the show as part of the Garden Theatre Summer Festival at St Gabriel’s Church Hall, Pimlico. The play was Bleach and this week I went along to see if it would get to me in the same way again.

Bleach at the Garden TheatreLike many young people before him, Tyler Everett has done the right things. He did well at school, went to university and after graduation, moved to London to make his fortune. Unfortunately, unlike Dick Whittington, Tyler was not destined to become Lord Mayor and has ended up as a single gay man living in a poky bedsit, working in hospitality. Well, a form of hospitality. After a spell as a busboy in an all-you-can-eat Chinese restaurant, Tyler has moved into a more personalised career in the service industry, becoming a highly successful rent boy. Tyler is very flexible in his approach to his job and, on the whole, will do anything to please his clients – at a price of course. But this evening, he has been involved in something new that has entirely shaken his world.

I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect of Bleach this time round. Not only had I seen it before, but I had purchased the playtext and read it a few times so I was well versed in Tyler’s story. Would it still affect me the same way it had when I first saw it, or would I be less emotionally connected with the narrative?

I’m pleased to say that the show was as gripping and enthralling the second time around as it had been on the first. Dan Ireland-Reeves who wrote, directs, stages and performs the piece is a master storyteller. I’m not going to go into too much detail about the story, as I really don’t want to drop any spoilers.

In my day job, I work at a university and see students graduating ready to take on the world. Unfortunately, at my advanced age, I know a lot of them won’t achieve everything they have been promised and could easily be another Tyler. That’s not a nice thought but, especially in these harsh economic times, it is a possibility. Maybe that’s why Tyler feels like such a real person to me. He’s very human. He’s an ordinary guy, likeable but not anything special. He has days when he hates his job and others where he loves it, and he makes mistakes in his life just like me and you. So, Ireland-Reeves has not only created a great character but has put him in a story that has so much realism you can’t help but get sucked in, thanks to the strength of his performance which brings Tyler into the theatre and makes him a real person.

Writing, story, and performance are all A1 then, so what can I say about the staging? Well, the colour white predominates. Everything on stage with the exception of Tyler’s jeans and jacket is white. A large square frame encloses the performance area with a white box, backpack, and the various tools of Tyler’s trade all in white as well. Thinking about this as I waited for the show to start, it struck me that white is the colour of purity and innocence. This may sound like a strange concept when you consider Tyler’s occupation but makes sense when you think of the journey he goes through. Add in the extremely effective lighting and sound, and it’s easy to understand why I like this show so much.

There really isn’t that much more for me to say. The fact that I was so emotionally connected to Bleach, even though I knew what was going to happen, demonstrates the strength of the production as a whole. I really don’t want to write any spoilers but there was a point when I was so engrossed and tense that, if the seat I was on had collapsed, I would still not have been able to pull my eyes away from the stage. There are few shows that affect my emotions on this scale, and even fewer that can still do it the second time around, but Bleach is definitely one, and I consider myself lucky to have seen this outstanding production.

5 Star Rating

Review by Terry Eastham

Interview with Dan Ireland-Reeves (2019)

http://gardentheatre.co.uk/

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