❉ This is a beautiful story of how to unconditionally love and support a child who is different, writes Andrew Creak.
For several years I have been following actor Rob Madge online, with their comedic videos and acting career, and was so excited that they were putting together a one-person show, and this past weekend I finally got the chance to see My Son’s a Queer (But What Can You Do?) on the West End, at London’s Garrick Theatre (running until 6th November 2022).
Some background on Madge: They are a non-binary actor known for plying Gavrosh in the silver anniversary concert of Les Miserables, and most recently touring in the well-reviewed stage musical adaption of Bedknobs and Broomsticks. He may be familiar to many of the Doctor Who fans reading this, as he appeared in the beloved spin-off series The Sarah Jane Adventures.
My Son’s a Queer (But What Can You Do?) is a beautifully emotional hour of the story of how Rob was allowed to be themself by their loving parents and grandparents, and is full of nostalgia, especially for this audience member, having been born the same year as Madge.
The show opens in a familiar setting to us all, the living room, a recreation of the place that Madge, and many other queer children, turned into their own theatre, a stage to perform for family and friends. While watching the opening of the show I was myself transported back to my Nanny Rees’ house, where I, sometimes with my sisters but mostly alone, would perform for my Nan, mother and uncle.
The show has a seven-step structure, teaching the way through a perfect living room performance, but also more importantly how to unconditionally love and support a child who is different, a child who is queer.
The opening song of the production Anything is Possible truly captures the mind of a creative child, while also reminding the audience that anything can be possible if you work hard for it, with Madge being the perfect example, going from living room floor to West End stage.
I almost never shed a tear at theatre productions, but reader this show made me cry a total of four times. The script and story are so hard-hitting and resonant to its queer audience, as well as the cis het parents who brought up queer children themselves. Everywhere you looked someone was wiping a tear.
The show showed a lot of the love and support that Madge got from their maternal grandmother, Granny Grimble, and how she made Madge their very own Maleficent costume, leading to them asking if she could make them a yellow dress like Belle in Beauty And The Beast, leading into the show’s second song.
This was the first time I got emotional. My Nanny Creak also made me outfits, though rather than musical characters, she knitted me Tom Baker’s scarf and Sylvester McCoy’s jumper from Doctor Who, and the love and care she put into them came flooding back to me. The stereotype of grandparents of queer children is of stern disapproval, and to see Madge talk about the unconditional love they revived from her reminded me of my Nan, who I sadly lost earlier this year.
During the show Madge also talks of their coming of age and realising that they liked boys, falling for a fellow student at Stagecoach who was playing The Pied Piper. The realisation that you like someone of the same gender when you are still a child can be scary, especially when raised in a heavily heteronormative household where pink is for girls and blue is for boys, but to hear in song how this clarity helped Madge to make sense of their life was incredibly beautiful and moving.
One of the most heart-sinking parts of the show was the song Pieces of My Heart, where Madge shares how a teacher blamed them being different on why he they were getting bullied rather than the school dealing with the bullies.
The lyrics talk about how they packed away their love of costumes, hid away their confident bright and entertaining personality, and tried to conform to the heteronormative mould society had created for “boys”.
This is the moment that for many queer people my age causes us to lose their confidence – for some briefly, for others permanently. I look back at my own childhood, how brightly confident and happy I was, until at some point during comprehensive school, after being bullied and confidently called ‘gay’ by bullies, it faded away, replaced by anxiety and dread.
Fortunately, Madge’s family noticed how the changes in their life made Rob quiet and unhappy, and this time Madge’s paternal grandparents came to the rescue by making Madge their own puppet theatre. This too called me back to growing up with my Gamp who would create play sets for my action figures, even when I was maybe a little too old to still be playing with them.
If a parent ever wonders how they can raise their child to be who they really are, I highly recommend seeing the show, reading the script and listening to the soundtrack of this amazing show.
The end of the show is so poignant, and important, with the song We Will Be Loved Anyway and it’s a testament to how brilliant Madge’s parents are, a blueprint for others to live up to, with the whole show’s message being summed up with the lyric ‘My child’s a queer, what can do I? Your son’s a queer, I’m jealous of you!’
❉ ‘My Son’s a Queer (But What Can You Do?)’ is playing at the Garrick Theatre, London until 6th November 2022. CLICK HERE to book tickets. The full soundtrack is also available to buy and stream now, and you can purchase the book here: https://www.nickhernbooks.co.uk/my-sons-a-queer
❉ Andrew Creak (they/them) is a freelancer in TV and Film production based in South Wales. As well as this they are a producer director in their own right through their production company Third Time Lucky Productions. Follow them on Twitter: @AndrewCreak