Pride in Trafford is now in its fifth year, and is putting on a delight of different attractions, many free to attend, until Saturday. For its opening night, I saw two plays exploring different facets of queer identity and finding your place in the world. The first was The Chosen Haram and the second BI-TOPIA.
The Chosen Haram is a piece of dance theatre that drew on the personal experience of the lead artist Sadiq Ali as well as interviews with LGBTQ+ people who are or were Muslim. It explores faith and sexuality and also deals quite heavily with themes of drug use and addiction.
A prayer mat made of light on the floor was contrasted with a light at the top of a Chinese pole, with the primary actor pulled between the two lights. Early on, some of the prayer movements were carried out on the pole, looking just as effortless as on the ground. This scene of a praying man dressed in white was contrasted with another man gathering his clothes after a messy night. Even here, the pole was used to elegantly facilitate something so simple as tying his hair back.
As the show went on, the prayer mat made of light increasingly became an alternative to a messy queer exploration. The Chinese poles gave a three-dimensionality to the dance as the actors spun around, up and down the poles. There was also an enticing materiality to the piece, with cling film, plastic and shredded paper all used to dramatise the ordinary. A particularly humorous scene involved a line of coke being drawn across the stage in shredded paper.
The play overall was incredibly emotional. Despite no words, the movements of the actors beautifully conveyed passion both good and bad. Drugs and sex were violent themes depicted as something enjoyable but also linked to shame. The Muslim dancer clearly felt a struggle within him as he reconciled his religion and his homosexuality.
As someone who has seen Chinese pole performed before, I found that even classic moves were so well integrated into the story that they felt new. While the technical skill was incredible, the story was the thing that shone in the forefront. The tone overall was tragic, but with clear moments of joy in the initially tentative explorations of the lead actor with a clearly more experienced man.
At the end of the show, Ali took a moment to speak to the themes of the show as well as the importance of events like Pride in Trafford. Drug use and shame are still big problems among queer people, but events that are for the community and focus on including families show a way forward for us all.
The Chosen Haram was brilliantly performed and a visual masterpiece. It was only on for a single night at Pride in Trafford, but hopefully will be in Manchester again soon, as I can fully imagine seeing it a second time.
BI-TOPIA is a new one-man show by Sam Danson with an accompanying interactive visual arts installation. Like The Chosen Haram, it was semi-autobiographical and focussed on growing up bisexual in a military family. The show started in a war room, telling us about how to be a proper man.
The use of war as a metaphor for internal conflict feels cliché but worked really well. One scene involved aiming guns at the doors, asking the thoughts of shame to fight him like a man contrasted with calling various people to admit to poor mental health.
The play was structured as a journey through Danson’s life, starting with his experiences at 14, denying attraction to men while having sex in the boys’ bathroom. It then flicked to him working in a gelato shop five years later, still unable to admit attraction but attending gay clubs and being teased by a much older gay co-worker.
The exploration was awkward but funny and encapsulated the difficulty of growing up bisexual in a time where it is becoming more accepted. Danson brilliantly solo acted conversations, perfectly characterising both participants in a way that felt natural and easy to follow. One conversation with his dad emphasised the irony often seen of a parent being supportive while scoffing at gay or trans people on TV.
This show was a moving but overall joyful journey which showed the actor coming to terms with his identity. The increased openness of sexuality is something to be celebrated, but does not erase past shame which still prevails. There is also an anger at the ease with which people just a few years younger can be themselves. This is undoubtedly a good thing, but there is a frustration that stems from personal internalised biphobia which is not so easy to resolve.
As well as this, the confusion that comes with being attracted to multiple genders can be difficult to work through. As Danson clearly shows, it can bring with it a host of mental health issues, only compounded by a system that does not want boys or men to show their feelings.
BI-TOPIA looks at the uniquely bisexual aspect of queerness, sharing the difficulty but also the joy that comes with that. As someone of a similar age to Danson, I found this piece to be oddly relatable, despite not having a military background or being a man. Nonetheless, it is an excellent piece that I would recommend everyone to go see.
As well as BI-TOPIA, there are a range of other shows on as part of Pride in Trafford until Saturday, including a closing party cabaret spectacular which is sure to be a blast.
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