Despite being a gory story about sex work and death, Bleach has wounds that are merely superficial scratches, and is bruised with banality.
Tyler is doing “ok” in London, supporting his existence by being a male escort in this “piss of a city”. Despite the sex and the drugs, when a trick goes wrong, Tyler is only left with the rest of his life that he’s neglected in Bleach.
Bleach is not exactly an unfamiliar scenario. It’s another “sex work is great until it all goes wrong” play. That’s not to belittle people’s personal, absolutely valid, and important experiences of working in the sex industry, but it does mean that, as a play, Bleach really needed to find something different and interesting for it to really stand out from the crowd.
Unfortunately, not only does Bleach really fail to do this, it also fails to make you care as much as you could. Dan Ireland-Reeves’ writing has very little flair with regards to depth, intelligence, or creativity that could otherwise had given Bleach a real edge of interest. Bleach rattles through its dark and dangerous scenario, trying hard hard to force a deeper “human collateral” out of it. But ultimately, it fails to find a narrative kink that catches your attention or even challenge your perceptions, resulting in a play of very little substance that’s worth writing home about.
Outside of the “shocking” event, the moments that Bleach attempt to get behind the superficiality of the character do anything but add depth, being so brief and/or disjointed to the narrative you end up caring less about Tyler rather than more. Tyler becomes a character that is nothing more than boring, selfish, and self-absorbed to the point of banality, on which Ireland-Reeves peppers little to no intrigue. At one point, Tyler’s partner leaves him, with no explanation or exploration of this: oh no. Tyler also goes home to visit his mother. He really doesn’t like it there. Apart from some strange and clunky attempt to eek something out of an unbuilt tree-house by his errant father, there’s nothing more to that thread. It got to the point where I just stopped caring about Tyler and completely lost interest in his fate.
Certainly not helping is that the main character isn’t particularity likeable. I get that they’re not a great person and we’re most likely supposed to be un-enamoured with their attitude and egotism. But throwing in misogyny and racism without serving any real or purposeful relation to narrative, character, and the development of either, makes Bleach uncomfortably gratuitous rather than interestingly flawed, indicating, if anything, underdevelopment and/or lack-lustre writing.
But that’s not to say Bleach is wholly unlikable. Somewhere in there there’s a nice little thriller, and its dark subject matter certain keeps a modicum of curiosity throughout. It’s just Bleach never becomes the show it has so much potential to be or explores themes and characters as fully as it could.
Ireland-Reeves’ performance doesn’t help to engage you either. They certainly handle the text well via a confident performance, but it mostly feels as empty as their text. Ireland-Reeves’ doesn’t really engage the audience aside from some direct finger pointing and moments of eye contact: hardly the paragon of good solo theatre. The result is that the audience are being talked at rather than to by a character who is, despite the scenario they’ve gotten themselves into, dull as dishwater. You also get the sense that Ireland-Reeves’ isn’t fully becoming Tyler, but then, there’s so little of Tyler to become.
Bleach could really be something if more time was taken at finding a point of intrigue in the narrative instead of adding vapid and derivative flourishes of try-hard introspection on top a single shock event. Bleach just ends up being something quickly rinsed out of your memory.