Review by Rosie Holmes
Rob Madge’s joyous one-person show My Son’s A Queer (But What Can You Do?) has had quite the journey. Beginning at the Turbine Theatre in 2021, it then enjoyed a sell-out turn at the Edinburgh Fringe before making its West End debut at the Garrick Theatre last year. It is now back for its second West End outing but can it retain the life-affirming charm the previous versions had?
My Son’s A Queer is centred around the childhood stage shows performed by a young Rob Madge in their living room with the help of their loving family. Featuring VHS footage from their childhood, these clips were first released by Rob Madge on their social media during the Covid-19 lockdown and proved to be so popular, it inspired the show. It is through these clips we are introduced to a precocious, yet endearing young Rob and their loving family (or should I say supporting cast) on a large screen above the stage. The clips clearly resonated with the audience who would have been no strangers to a living room performance themselves. The narrative of this show uses these videos to provide the audience with a seven-step handbook on how to put on a Disney parade in their living room.
Whilst at first glance this show could be seen as self-indulgent (Madge’s own words) that couldn’t be further from the truth. The home videos are a vehicle to create a show about acceptance, both from oneself and those around them. Alongside the comedic moments that will truly make you cackle (or choke on your wine in my case) there is a poignancy that builds throughout the show. Madge recounts the pressures from teachers and friends to try to fit in, and to conceal their flamboyance because it does not fit with societal norms, specifically their desire for wanting to dress as Belle rather than the Beast. However, this is not a show that dwells on the negative - what unfolds is a show of joy and optimism, a love letter to the magnificence of the Queer community.
Speaking of joy and optimism, whilst Madge may be the star of the show, it soon becomes clear their parents and family provide the real heartbeat of the show. As those around them try to stifle Madge’s individualism, they nurture Madge’s creative expressionism and flamboyancy. We see Madge’s dad partaking in many living rooms shows and subjected to a strict Christmas schedule of rehearsals. In one show of solidarity, Madge regales the audience with the tale of their mum working as a dinner lady at their school to watch over Madge after reports of bullying. This love extends to the rest of the family - in perhaps the most tear-jerking moment of the show, we see a clip of Madge’s grandparents presenting them with a Christmas present. I can honestly say I never expected to cry so much over a puppet theatre.
Madge’s writing is brought to life expertly by their perfect comedic-timing. Madge displays an abundance of charisma, allowing for an exceptional connection with the audience. Their script is witty and incredibly relevant, note Madge’s jokes regarding Cheryl’s current turn in the West End (whose press night took place on the same evening as this one). Madge’s expert delivery combined with Luke Sheppard’s accomplished direction allows the leap from heart-breaking to outrageously funny moments without any awkwardness. Madge does a wonderful job of delivering Pippa Leary’s infectiously catchy songs. A standout of which is ‘We Will Be Loved Anyway’ - a song that asks parents to embrace the fabulousness of their children’s queerness.
The charisma and genius of Madge means this show would probably still be captivating without any set design, props or costumes. However, the wonderful creative team’s set, lighting and projection design creates a backdrop to the show that a little Rob Madge could only ever have dreamed of. Ryan Dawson Laight’s deceptively simple set welcomes us into the living room of Madge’s childhood home, adding to the intimacy of the show as a plain-looking living room begins to reveal its glamour and surprises throughout the show, namely a sideboard falling open to uncover disco lights and sparkle.
George Reeve’s projection design also showcases Madge’s home videos in a delightfully authentic way. There is a fine balance between keeping the magic and intimacy of a home video whilst also displaying them on a professional west-end stage but this is handled here perfectly. Childlike illustrations accompany the videos maintaining the nostalgia and comfort of a home video whilst also allowing us to believe, as Madge rightly sings ‘Anything Is Possible.’
My Son’s A Queer (But What Can You Do?) is a show I would encourage everybody to go and see. It is not so much a coming-of-age story but more a show of acceptance, love and joy, and a story that feels ever so necessary to tell. Much of the magic of this show lies in the absolute relatability Madge creates in their writing ensuring everyone watching is able to relate in some way. Whether that relatable aspect is the struggle to fit in, performing childhood shows, or countless references to a 90s childhood.
Rob Madge is undoubtedly a genius and delivers a life-affirming show full of joy. I don’t think I have ever seen a show that moments after leaving I have messaged so many people encouraging everyone I know to see it. In My Son’s A Queer you can expect to laugh, cry and fall in love with the wonderful Madge family. As far as I am concerned as many people as possible should see this show.
My Son’s a Queer (But What Can You Do?) plays at The Ambassador’s Theatre until 18th March. Tickets available here
Photos by Mark Senior