My Son’s a Queer, (but What Can You do?), Garrick Theatre, 2022
Photo by Mark Senior
  • Theatre, Drama
  • Recommended

Review

‘My Son’s a Queer, (But what Can You Do?)’ review

5 out of 5 stars

Rob Madge celebrates a happy gay childhood in this quirky, joyous monologue

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Time Out says

This review is from the Garrick Theatre in October 2022. ‘My Son’s A Queer’ transfers to the Ambassadors Theatre in January 2023.

You’ll be hard-pressed to find a more joyous, life-affirming show in the West End right now than this one. Even its journey – via this year’s Edinburgh Fringe – into the bright lights of central London after debuting at the small Turbine Theatre in Battersea last year feels a little fairy-tale. Personally, as a gay man, there’s also something wonderful about seeing the word ‘Queer’ emblazoned so proudly above the venerable Garrick Theatre.

This one-person show revolves around the amateur childhood stage productions of its charismatic and funny writer and performer Rob Madge. He talks to us from a set that functions as a heightened version of the Coventry front room we watch in grainy VHS footage on a screen above the stage. Through video snippets from the late 1990s and early 2000s, we see a very young Madge – a child star of West End mega-musicals ‘Les Misérables’ and ‘Mary Poppins’ – enlist their dad in homemade stagings of Disney films like ‘The Little Mermaid’.

These clips – which Madge first released on the social media platforms where the non-binary actor and writer is a hugely popular presence – are, first off, extremely funny. They’ll resonate with anyone who’s dreamed of being a star in their living room. The little Madge is hilariously perfectionist, demanding that their dad endlessly repeat scenes, criticising line deliveries and dropping a settee throw with the proud flourish of a stage curtain raising before every ‘act’.

All of this is framed by the reactions of the adult Madge, who gently pokes fun at their younger excesses, while never detracting from the passion and love – for theatre but also between father and child – that we see on the screen. Recreating the Disney Parade of characters that the young Madge is obsessed with is the show’s direction. But in the small pauses that occur as school report cards flash on the screen suggesting that they would fit in better if they ditched the ‘dramatic facial expressions’, we see a child told over and over again by people outside their home that their imaginative independence – their desire to be Belle not the Beast – is wrong because it doesn't reflect 'the norm'.  

Director Luke Sheppard skilfully handles these changes of pace, as the older Madge reflects on their journey to authentic self-expression that began with a desire to dress like Maleficent. It’s often deeply moving and will resonate with many a queer kid in the audience, but Sheppard doesn’t let these moments dominate the stage for too long. The challenges are acknowledged, but this is fundamentally an optimistic show about following your own path. And as Madge sings Pippa Cleary’s infectiously catchy songs with gentle self-irony, they steer the show clear of easy sentimentality.

Among the lip-syncing, costume changes and childhood memorabilia that Madge unpacks on stage at the same time as the story of their life, the beating heart of the show – the sustaining power of a supportive family – is never muffled. Accepting every creative indignity inflicted on him by his child, you’ll love Madge’s dad to the moon and back by the end of the show. You’ll also adore the grandparents who we see present a delighted Madge with a mini theatre as an early birthday. This isn’t a story about privilege or inevitable success; it’s about love. Those songs of hope and imagination that typify a Disney film are found, here, in an ordinary front room, transformed. You’ll leave the theatre with a grin. 

Details

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Price:
£25-£59.50. Runs 1hr 5min
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