MY SON’S A QUEER (BUT WHAT CAN YOU DO) at Edinburgh Festival Fringe
“there’s lots, and I mean LOTS, of camp queer joy and comedy in the show”
Not to sound like a complete weirdo, but I’ve been following Rob Madge’s career for quite some time. I think my first encounter might’ve been a performance of them playing the Artful Dodger in a telly promo performance of Oliver! And then (or it might’ve been before) as Gavroche in the 25th anniversary concert of Les Mis. I think I shared with many others in the delight of seeing their old VHS tapes pop up on Twitter a couple of years ago of them performing as a kid in their living room. So I’m definitely a fan. I was very much also that kid who played dress-up instead of football and used to make my parents watch me “perform” (I use the term loosely) to a CD soundtrack of Disney’s biggest movie hits. Unfortunately, unlike Rob, my parents weren’t that into it and didn’t really know how to work a camcorder. But it did make this show incredibly relatable.
At the setup, we’re welcomed into Rob’s living room where they’ve been practising for their next show. We’re invited into the tech rehearsal. The stage is warm and cosy: an armchair, some drawers, and a small cabinet with family photos atop. The instrumental to zip-a-dee-doo-dah is playing as we take our seats. The show is a mix of original songs and stories from Rob about their stagey childhood, difficult times at school, and queer awakenings, broken up with a fabulous selection of family videos from the old camcorder. The opening song includes the line ‘even though the stage is small’, which might’ve been the case when this show first premiered, but it’s actually on a pretty big stage now in Edinburgh, and deservedly so! But it’s nice to get a sense that Rob’s ambitions are still even bigger.
Besides just being an incredibly talented performer and singer, Rob is also wonderfully charming. They are so easy to watch, and even easier to root for. The humour is on point, and I personally adored the very niche musical theatre references to the likes of Connie Fisher (the winner of BBC One’s talent competition to find the next Maria) and the seventh of Henry VIII’s wives… the swing in Six the Musical! I think every queer adult in the audience could relate to Rob’s first teenage crush on the Pied Piper of Hamelin. We all had our own Pied Piper, I’m sure.
Though there’s lots, and I mean LOTS, of camp queer joy and comedy in My Son’s A Queer, there’s also certainly moments of poignancy; as Rob’s school teacher knocks their confidence, and basically tells them they need to fit into a box that they don’t feel like they belong in. Rob is very grateful for their family, and acknowledges how lucky they are to have them; their dad lifting them up to help them fly, and reading in for all the other parts (sometimes even getting the lines right); their grandad who built them their very own little theatre, and their grandma who was quite happy being spun around on an office chair to replicate the tea cups at Disneyland. But they also acknowledge that not everyone is so lucky. And a message from their dad about parenting really sums up what it should be all about. I look around towards the end of the show to find it’s not just me wiping away the tears… it’s quite a lot of us. The show and Rob’s performance is incredibly touching. For some of us, perhaps there’s a sense of grief for the queer childhood we weren’t able to have. And for others, maybe some hope for the current and future generations of queer young people, who might just be lucky enough to have a family like Rob’s. It’s a rollercoaster of emotions for sure, performed with flair, talent, and total commitment to the camp theatricality of it all. My Son’s A Queer is a brilliant show. It deserves full houses, and I hope it gets them.
Reviewed 12th August 2022
by Joseph Winer
Photography by Mark Senior
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