Last Saturday evening, Quays News took a trip out the Sale Waterside Arts theatre to check out ‘Bi-Topia’, a semi-autobiographical story about a tumultuous journey of self-acceptance, with several opportunities to share a laugh along the way.
Sam Danson, the only actor in this captivating one man show, provides us with 70 minutes of utter brilliance. Through childhood memories to adulthood lessons, Danson shares mere snippets of a man battling a raging war, struggling with his sexuality, his mental health, and masculinity – and you can’t take your eyes off the compelling performance.
Beginning our journey at the theatre, we arrived slightly early to set up for our interview. What struck me first was how charming this venue was. Despite living in Greater Manchester for years, I’d never been to the Waterside Arts theatre, but was greeted with bright, art filled walls and a quaint café, invoking a warm, welcoming feeling as we wondered around this hidden gem in the heart of Sale.
After sitting down, Danson arrived and we set up for our interview. We learnt that even though this show is going on tour around the North, this show was produced and conceptually formed in Waterside Arts and developed in partnership with Creative Industries Trafford – so the theatre itself holds a lot of importance for Danson.
“They were key in developing the show, they gave it the original commission, we premiered here in May 2023 at the Pride in Trafford festival, so it felt logical to bring it back here for the start of the tour, as it wouldn’t have been possible without them” says Danson.
Danson doesn’t believe that links between mental health and sexuality are represented enough, and this performance is a way of spreading the message and reducing the shame that young people may feel in the process of realising their sexuality.
As we took our seats, the themes of war began the show as Danson took us through his plan of attack – how to fit in as a straight, hyper-masculine boy. We soon realised that each character that Danson portrayed had a separate character arc, making sure the story was easy to follow and understand.
At times, I became so immersed in the performance that it felt like a lucid dream. It felt like I was Danson, having these experiences and trying my hardest to fit in at school, at my first job, at various parties.
As one man, Danson commanded the stage. His presence was felt in every corner of the theatre, shining a spotlight on the barriers between his masculinity, sexuality and his mental health one anecdote at a time. Powerful and raw, it appealed to the emotional nature of the audience, with his talk of dark thoughts and heartbreak.
This was contrasted by a reasonable, but not overbearing amount of comedy. Danson played into his bubbly and talkative nature to achieve pure unadulterated comedy that would be hard to replicate for another actor. His awkward tendencies to overshare made for great theatre – one specific moment would be his first time at therapy.
In normal entertainment, therapy is usually filled with quite negative connotations, but Danson made you elated, filled with giggles, as he blew the whistle on all his personal struggles with excellent comedic timing.
After having me on the edge of my seat, both from belly laughter and deep emotion, the performance came to a rather natural conclusion. He had explored his sexuality, improved his mental health and came to terms with his own view of masculinity.
In a Q&A session with the audience afterwards, Danson said he had the right support and aftercare when writing such a personal story.
He further explained: “Luckily a lot of the themes I talk about are in the past […] so I’ve distanced it a little more and changed situations to make it not as exposing to myself.”
The piece was directed by Rikki Beadle-Blair MBE, an actor-director known for his works that have contributed to LGBT culture, such as the film & adapted screenplay Stonewall, FIT, and Ask and Tell.
Danson said that when the piece was being pitched, Beadle-Blair was instrumental to getting it commissioned, adding he was “like a celebrity” in the room.
Bi-Topia begins its tour during LGBT History Month, highlighting the need to increase visibility, raise awareness, and promote the welfare of LGBT+ people across the country.
Danson believes LGBT+ History month is “very important” and that this show raises awareness of the key issues that the company pledges to change. He runs Pride group sessions with residents of Rochdale and in their activities, they learn about key moments of LGBT+ history.
He said: “It is interesting to see how recent everything is, and it’s a reminder that this idea of inequality and discrimination isn’t historic, it is current.”
If you missed the show last week, it returns to Greater Manchester on 18th July at the Oldham Libraries. The Waterside Arts gig was the start of a five-month run across the North of England, which includes venues in Blackpool, Leeds and the Lake District.
Full details can be found on Danson’s website – and you can find a trailer of the play below.
Overall, an entrancing piece of theatre made great by Danson’s uplifting sense of humour through what seems to be quite dark periods of his life. His light in these situations hopes to inspire new generations of the LGBT+ community to show there is a way forward in a mind maze of important milestones. Five stars.