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Sauna Boy at Stage Door Theatre | Review

I’m sure many of my readers will either not know what a gay sauna is or, if they do, have never visited one. But, if you have ever wondered what happens in a gay sauna, Dan Ireland-Reeves has written a one-person play about the subject and, following a very successful US and Australian tour, Sauna Boy has opened at the Stage Door Theatre in London’s Covent Garden.

Sauna Boy at Stage Door Theatre
Sauna Boy at Stage Door Theatre

This is the story of Dan (Dan Ireland-Reeves) a twenty-something wannabe actor who, in a need to make ends meet, has taken a job in the south-coast’s most successful gay sauna. A place where men come to relax, socialise and most importantly, have a good time. Over the course of a year Danny Boy, as he became known, takes the audience through his life working in the sauna. Starting out as a general worker, he soon impresses the owner ‘Mother’ and becomes manager – which seems to mean a lot more work but not a lot more money (just like the rest of the world) – looking after the team, the sauna regulars and the patrons who pop in for a spot of relaxation before heading back into their day-to-day lives. Dan gets to know them all and knows all the secrets of working in a sauna where, what happens in the dark room, stays in the dark room, until someone comes in to clean it up. But as time goes on, Dan starts to question his employment choices.

I’m no stranger to the works of Dan Ireland-Reeves who I first saw five years ago at the Vault Festival in his one-man show Bleach. Given how much I had enjoyed that show, I was very excited to see if he could meet my expectations with Sauna Boy. And yes, he did deliver. Once the show finished, I asked my friend Michael who had not seen Dan’s work previously (or visited a sauna) what he thought, and he was highly impressed. He said that Dan is a consummate story-teller, and I have to agree.

Sauna Boy is a semi-autobiographical piece that is based on Dan’s time working in a sauna and having visited the odd sauna in my time (don’t judge me) I can say that his word picture of life in these places was very accurate. From the effeminate, almost world-weary Marco, via the self-deluded ‘Mother’ and the gorgeous Ash, through to Chardonnay, the most irritating drag queen on the planet, Dan has created a set of characters that live and breathe and, for anyone involved in the LGBT+ scene, are highly relatable. Sauna Boy is not necessarily a show you would go to with your maiden aunt. As well as inhabiting the sauna with colourful characters, Dan doesn’t hold back in detailing the behind-the-scenes life of a sauna.

There’s not really much more to say about Sauna Boy. Both Michael and I really loved the show. Dan is a phenomenal writer who has managed to create an amazing technicolour oral picture of the highs and lows of a gay sauna. As a performer, he knows how to grab an audience and make them fixate on him so that we live Danny Boy’s journey from the quiet, diffident young lad arriving for his interview to the fully formed man ready to stand up for what he believes in, no matter what the consequences, leaving the sauna for the last time. I’m going to finish this review with the final words Michael spoke on my TikTok as we left the theatre “Excellent, go and watch it,” and I have to agree with him.

5 Star Rating

Review by Terry Eastham

Dan works at the South Coast’s most successful and infamous gay sauna. A place where men come to relax, socialise and most importantly… fool around. There are many stories to discover: the good, the bad and the downright lubricated. But as Dan learns the secrets of this hidden world and connects with its diverse patrons, he begins to realise that sex at the sauna is not always as simple as it seems.

From multi-award-winning writer/performer Dan Ireland-Reeves comes a semi-autobiographical look behind the curtain of one of the world’s most secretive and seductive industries.

Pulsing with frenetic energy and laced with sexual tension, Sauna Boy is guaranteed to touch you in more ways than one.

SAUNA BOY
by Dan Ireland-Reeves
29th May -1st June 2024
Stage Door Theatre

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