Writer: Sam Danson
Director: Rikki Beadle-Blair
When watching a coming-of-age drama about the male bisexual experience one might expect a story driven by internal conflict, homophobia and a lack of representation or understanding. Those plot lines are certainly present in BI-TOPIA but they are secondary to the play’s focus: an emotional, laugh-out-loud, touching and beautiful portrayal of one man’s self-discovery.
Written and performed by Sam Danson, this semi-autobiographical, one-act show appears to open in a military setting.A circle of bricks and barbed wire surrounds a war room-like chair and table, complete with strategy boards and military maps. A scattering of ‘macho movie’ DVD cases, discarded beer cans and the bisexual flag suggest we could be in a conflict zone of a different kind.
Danson bounds onto the stage from the audience, shooting at an invisible enemy with toy guns and producing his own bullet sound effects. This is a fight to protect masculinity from shame on one front and gay thoughts on the other. As our hero explains, take out the gay thoughts and the shame will surely be defeated too. If that sounds simplistic and trite, it is meant to. We are being introduced to the character’s childlike analysis of how to address his confusion.
What follows are a series of neatly performed rememberings of one man’s struggles with his own sexuality. The writing of an internal checklist on how to be manly (avoid speedos and skin care products), a teenage sexual encounter that must be brushed aside, sharing a song that means something with someone who just doesn’t get it.
This is, at times, intensely emotional. The shame and regret is clear. Conversations between Danson and his father are pitch perfect in scripting and delivery but are also heartbreaking in their portrayal of male mental health.
However, BI-TOPIA is also genuinely hilarious throughout. The show is full of awkward and, only partially self-aware, fumblings that are laugh out loud funny. Danson is a likeable and comically talented performer. His naturalistic delivery of utterly genuine dialogue, both internally and with others, is what makes this show so special. He is also a great mimic, bringing alive conversations in a believable and understandable way.
The show is then taken to another level courtesy of direction from the legendary Rikki Beadle-Blair. With just a handful of neat touches something extra special is created: lighting that transports the audience from a war zone to a club, great use of music and sound effects, brilliant movement through the entire space.
After a couple of years in development, and a short run last year in Sale Waterside’s smaller Chambers space, BI-TOPIA is now in the main theatre before heading out on tour. That work has clearly paid off because this is an accomplished and confident performance which will surely warm audiences hearts.
Runs until 3 February 2024 and then on tour