Rob Madge’s autobiographical tale is beautifully honest and brilliantly touching
There’s a certain gold standard given within the queer community to people who are “straight passing”. It entirely comes from a place of internalised homophobia, and probably from deep rooted daddy issues, but a sympathetic portrayal of those unapologetically camp queer kids amongst us is seldom seen. Most portrayals of queer characters in film or TV are notable for being more traditionally masculine, and those who are not are typically the butt of a heterosexual’s joke. It is refreshing, therefore, to see a show in which being unapologetically and authentically oneself is so encouraged.
Rob Madge is objectively hilarious. Rocketing to viral status off the back of sharing their home videos, Rob has continued to be popular online since, amassing over 190 thousand TikTok followers with their beautifully camp, wonderfully pithy musical theatre content. Though some may know them as the cheeky Gavroche in the Les Miserables 25th Anniversary Concert, or indeed a particularly sinister 1950s child who, if memory serves, was actually an alien in The Sarah Jane Adventures, Rob is perhaps best known for sharing videos of their own Disney productions from the comfort of their own home, planning elaborate parades around the house, including dressing up as The Little Mermaid and being sped about on all manner of wheeled floats, whether they be office chairs, scooters or suitcases.
These videos are the definition of chaotic energy. Hasty, barely concealed costume changes, a litany of different accents, fourth-wall breaking to hiss instructions at their poor, beleaguered, and incredibly patient, father and almost always a post-show apology for some aspect of the production that didn’t go entirely to plan. There are many queer adults who I’m sure can identify with these videos from their own youth. The one’s where everybody “always knew”. In this way, Rob has almost become a poster child for those queer kids who always grew up feeling different and unable to just fit in.
Madge crafts their show around this winning parade, peppering the entire show with amusing clips from their childhood. Part of this is in order to finally perform the parade as intended – parental nonsense to one side, but it quickly becomes apparent that the show is far more than this. Of course, the giddy love of pageantry and performance is one element, but Madge uses this as the basis to explore their childhood more generally – the freedom that they had to express themselves authentically and the brilliantly loving and nurturing support system that they grew from. From here, Madge’s story becomes tremendously resonant, especially to a queer audience, making it almost impossible for audience members not to compare their own childhoods to Rob’s. To be told such an uplifting, accepting tale of queer joy is still, despite an improvement in this area, a novelty, and the power of having such a strong, nonjudgemental familial unit is keenly felt.
Throughout, Madge’s precocious, highly particular persona shines through, especially when revisiting their home videos, but there is a raw, quiet honesty to their performance too. A genuine warmth and a surprising vulnerability that is infinitely captivating. Bouncing from highly energetic, gloriously funny musical numbers to more emotive stillness is tricky, but Madge’s gloriously crafted story takes the audience on a definite, well-conceived exploration of their lived experience. The songs, by Pippa Cleary, work seamlessly with Madge’s book and enhance Madge’s wonderful storytelling. Ryan Dawson’s set, designed to resemble a modest living room, also creates a comfortable atmosphere that marries well with the spirit of Madge’s material.
It is rare to watch a show that is so self-assured and unapologetic for being what it is, but that is precisely what Madge provides. A brilliant, touching exploration of the otherness and sheer beauty of the kaleidoscope of the queer world – this is a story that everybody could do with witnessing.
Having premiered at the Turbine Theatre in June 2021 and playing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August 2022, My Son’s a Queer (But What Can You Do?) plays a limited West End run at the Garrick Theatre until Sunday 6th November, accompanied by a soundtrack recording released on 21st October.
My Son’s a Queer (But What Can You Do?) plays at the Garrick Theatre until 6th November. Tickets can be purchased here.