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Interview with Rob Madge

One of my favourite shows of recent years has been the incredible ‘My Sons A Queer… (but what can you do)’, a one person show by Rob Madge. Madge is truly one of our greatest theatrical storytellers, with that unique ability to make you believe that it is only the two of you in the room. It is only the roars of laughter from audiences that remind you that this isn’t the case.

The show focuses on Madge’s own childhood videos, which they posted online during lockdown back in 2020. Heartwarmingly hilarious videos of a younger carefree Madge dressing up to put on a Disney parade for their family. I asked them how it went from home videos to being a successful show.

“It was like a domino effect really. I never intended to make a show out of it in the first instance, I just wanted to make people laugh. I wanted to see whether the videos actually were funny, because my family had always laughed at them. I almost wanted to validate that I have a funny family. But then people would say things like; you’ve got such an amazing family and a father figure facilitating their son dressing as The Little Mermaid. So that interested me, as that never stuck out to me as a child or an adult. What was so normal for me was not the norm for plenty of people.”

It was clear to me from when I saw the show early last year, that the key message was about unconditional love and acceptance. For me, that’s what makes this show so beautiful. Yes, it is about a queer child being accepted, encouraged and loved for the person they are. But this isn’t a show with a message only for people who are also part of the queer community. Rob agreed, explaining;

“Everyone will take different things from it, but ultimately the message is in ‘We Will Be Loved Anyway’; go to the show because we will be loved anyway. I can’t think of any better way to put it. It is simply joy and it is simply that queerness means happiness. That’s how I redefine it in the show, and why would you want to miss out on happiness? It’s not scary, it’s not a threat, we’re not terrorising you. We are having a parade, we are having a party and you are more than welcome to join, the door’s open.”

Rob continued;

“Everyone deserves unconditional love. In my story it has come from my parents, but that’s not the case for everybody.  I understand for a lot of people the show can be bittersweet for that reason, because they were not afforded unconditional love. I often get told that I am lucky. And I am, but I find it really unfortunate that I have to admit I am lucky.  I find it crazy that unconditional love is luck, it shouldn’t be that way. The message stretches beyond parenting and to the world. We all deserve love.”

Speaking in particular about showing more positive depictions of queer stories in relation to family dynamics, Rob explained;

“When queer people would see families in queer stories, they’d often see absent, neglectful or abusive fathers. I felt this feeling from a lot of my queer friends saying, “why do we not see dads like mine, or mums like yours?’

I wanted to shine a spotlight on a supportive father. The convergence of masculinity and femininity with a father and son relationship. A father who isn’t remotely interested in theatre, but in 2002 was doing all of that! It really is an F-You to anyone who says positive parenting when it comes to queerness is such a 2024 concept.”

Even now it almost seems bold to have the word ‘queer’ plastered above a theatre. It is going to spark opinion from varying perspective. But Rob never saw it as being that deep, explaining it is simply a micky take of a line in the song ‘Beggars at the Feast’ from Les Miserables. Ironically, a show that they have starred in as both an adult and a child, as Jean Prouvaire and Gavroche. Talking more on some more closed minded reactions to the title;

“It wasn’t until I got to the West End that I’d see groups of lads taking pictures outside the theatre, taking the mick. I saw that on a regular basis. It was only then that I suddenly thought this simple little parody line that was lovely at the Edinburgh Fringe, lovely at the Turbine Theatre is now amplified and it's huge above a West End theatre. It took me a back really as I’d never though too much on it. It's a word that I'm proud of, I loved to identify as queer. But when some people see it on a slightly enlarged font on a slightly enlarged poster, that’s too much for them. I think it goes to show the extent to which we're willing to accept certain things. If it's at the Fringe or slightly underground, it's fine. But you shove it next to The Mousetrap theatre and it’s somehow terrifying! Same show, same title, same person, same story. But the slightly enlarged font is what scares people.”

The title never got any pushback in the early stages, and honestly, why should it have? However, when the Broadway run got postponed, Rob explained that it was suggested maybe they should think about the title. Rob of course stood their group and refused, explaining that is is utter vital that word is used.

“How you attach yourself to a word can completely change your perspective on life. I completely understand how people take umbrage with the term. But you now have the chance to reclaim the word, reclaim its power and take it away from the people who have used it to berate you”

One of the most memorable elements of the show, is the wonderful music by composer Pippa Cleary. However, this was never actually meant to be part of the show. Rob explained that just a few weeks before the show opened, director Luke Sheppard suggested that they should have a song.

“I sort of rolled my eyes at it at it, I wanted to do stand-up comedy. But as we were in rehearsals, there were moments that felt like I was giving a TEDTalk. When you do it in dialogue, it can come across this preachy, but you can get away with doing that in a song. I imagine the show without songs now. ‘We Will Be Loved Anyway’ is one of my proudest things I've ever written.”

What was going to be just one song, evolved into several with Rob and Pippa writing four or five the day they met. Now people across the country will have the opportunity to see the show, as it embarks on a UK tour. Opening next week at Curve Theatre in Leicester before continuing on to Birmingham, Coventry, Liverpool, Derby and then the returning to Edinburgh Fringe, before closing in Manchester, coinciding with Manchester PRIDE!

“I've done it in the West End, that's incredible. And the opportunity to go to broadway, that doesn't happen to people. But to take it truly home, people are going to get the Wolverhampton references! It's going to feel very special.”

Excited to share it more widely, Rob continued;

“London is very inaccessible to a lot of people, Broadway even more so. It eliminates the people who need to be watching the story. My dad is bringing his mates from the village pub. They would never see a show called ‘My Son’s A Queer’. But they’ve not got a choice because dads taking them, I need them to see it! I need them to see its totally normal, funny, chaotic and ridiculous. We don't necessarily always get those types of people trekking over to the West End. I’m really excited for queer people in isolated towns and to bring the parade to them. I couldn't be more excited.”


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