Rob Madge on 'My Son's a Queer, (But What Can You Do?)' celebrating the LGBTQ+ community
The actor shares how their debut show is a testament to the power of imagination and how they hope its message of acceptance influences future West End shows.
It's 2015. Bruno Mars’s “Uptown Funk” tops the charts. Birdman wins Best Picture at the Academy Awards. And over at Warwick University, two 18-year-olds throw themselves into all opportunities musical theatre-related; if it’s not a time to sing and dance, they don’t want to know anything about it.
Fast forward to 2023. The pair are in their twenties, and West End news consumes both of their lives. One of those people is myself. The other — Rob Madge. It’s a momentous full circle moment, not only professionally, but also personally, to chat to Rob about their debut West End show. To use the Disney line, it's a small world after all.
After playing a trio of male child musical roles — Gavroche in Les Miserables, the Artful Dodger in Oliver!, and Michael Banks in Mary Poppins — Rob’s now enjoying more West End success with My Son’s a Queer, at the Ambassadors Theatre.
Put simply, it’s a love letter to their childhood. During the show, they celebrate their family upbringing through dozens of home videos. It's a lot to pack into an hour, but the end result is an intoxicating, gut-punching hit of queer joy.
In our review, our critic said: "Rob Madge has now turned their life-to-date into a 75-minute celebration of being your best and truest self."
“[My Son’s a Queer] is such a hard thing to boil down," said Rob. "It's part cabaret, part musical, part play, part monologue, part stand-up. It’s therapy. It’s my brain just splattered on stage.”
But how did Rob pack over a decade’s worth of VHS clips into a musical monologue? We chatted about the magic of Disney, creating the show, the importance of LGBTQIA+ theatre, and perhaps the biggest stars of all: Rob’s parents.
My Son’s a Queer, (But What Can You Do?) is at the Ambassadors Theatre.
Book My Son’s a Queer, (But What Can You Do?) tickets on London Theatre.
Rob’s childhood memories inform the show
If there were an award for biggest Disney fan, Rob would take the trophy. From a young age, Rob knew the lines inside out and wouldn't be afraid to tell their parents off if they got it wrong.
A formative trip to Disney World as a child would influence Rob's life. “Mum and Dad took me to Disney World in Florida when I was around four years old. I was just blown away by the colour and the magic and the scale of things,” said Rob.
Sadly, Rob and the family couldn't stay at Disney forever. But one holiday was enough to hook Rob into this wonderful world.
“When we got back from Disney World, I wanted to bring that experience into my tiny little house back in the Midlands, because it was boring," they continued. "Florida was huge and Disney World was massive and fantastical.”
The Florida trip isn't Rob's only standout childhood memory. There are plenty of references suited to a British audience throughout the show — old British sitcoms influence the play.
“I love Victoria Wood and Caroline Aherne," Rob said. "The Royle Family is probably the closest that I can get to this show. It’s the idea of this show being about a family that sit in front of the telly and watch things; I mean, it's almost Gogglebox, but make it gay.”
The home videos tell a heartwarming story
Just like Gogglebox clips become viral, Rob too quickly became a social media sensation for sharing videos online. In July 2020, Rob shared their homemade Disney parades on Twitter — to date, that video has over 600,000 views.
After the viral video, Rob received messages from people in similar positions — they’d put on shows for their family, but they didn’t enjoy the same upbringing. And thus, a show idea was born.
“We see lots of queer stories that say the family unit was a dreadful experience or a positive maternal figure," Rob said. "But we rarely see positive dads and supportive fathers. When people said it’s a rarity, I thought that’s what the show should be about.
"A masculine father who works as an electrical wholesaler, who couldn’t be further removed from theatre if he tried, was supporting and letting his son wear dresses and do what they wanna do,” Rob continued.
While they may not appear on stage, Rob's parents — Jon and Jan Madge — receive many mentions. So it’s only fair that the family worked on the show side-by-side.
“We went through the videos together," said Rob about watching the videos with their dad, Jon. "I would see him as my test audience a lot of the time with gags and with videos, and if he thought some were funny, I would throw those ones in there. If he didn't crack a smile at one, that would be cut. He was always there from the beginning of the writing process.”
But My Son’s a Queer isn’t just video after video. There’s comedy, monologues, and original music to enjoy too. And for each iteration of the show — at the Turbine Theatre, the Edinburgh Fringe, and the Garrick Theatre — Rob made slight tweaks to finesse the show to where it is today.
If you’ve got a first edition script to hand, you’ve got a rare item. “We went through so many different versions of the show. The script was published before we even went into a rehearsal room. The first scripts that were on sale of the show was not the show that ever ended up being seen,” said Rob.
The show really came to life once Rob collaborated with director Luke Sheppard. “The minute that I got it in a rehearsal space, it just completely transformed the whole thing. You get that extra eye that really helps focus on the important narrative structures that you want to be telling. It became a real dialogue between both Luke and I about the story that we want to tell and then we go through the videos and work out which video best told that part of the story.”
If you’re not crying at the home videos or Rob’s impassioned speeches, then you’ll definitely sob at the heartfelt music and lyrics, written by Pippa Cleary.
“It was [first] written as a stand up comedy above everything," Rob said. "And then it was suggested that maybe we needed a couple of songs here and there and as okay, that's a cute idea. and I met with Pippa [Cleary].
"She just started tinkering away at her piano, and she comes up with the most amazing songs. I'd play her a reference point, and then all of a sudden we've got 'Anything is Possible.'"
Even before My Son’s A Queer came to the West End, its music already had a legion of fans thanks to a supergroup of LGBTQIA+ performers singing “We Will Be Loved Anyway” at West End Live.
“It’s become so integral to the story,” reflected Rob. “If you don't do it in song, it can sometimes sound like a TED talk, or a lecture. You have much more license to say the things that are really important if you're singing them.”
The Madge family are West End stars
The whole Madge family is on their way to superstardom, it seems. But how did Jon and Jan Madge find themselves in this position?
“They’re bewildered by the whole thing, but we take it in our stride. We sort of pretend it isn't happening just to keep ourselves grounded. If I were to tell Mum and Dad that their voices are being projected across a West End theatre every night, they’d laugh,” said Madge.
You might even spot the pair at the theatre, and to Rob’s surprise, they’re embracing their newfound fame.
“I come out of the theatre sometimes and my mum is having her own meet and greet," Rob said. "People will go up to Mum at this show, and at other shows. I’m like, 'Hi Mum,' and she’s going, 'Excuse me, just one second please,' and she’ll keep talking. Good for Jan. Go on."
Could we ever see Jan on stage? “My mum is fixated on the idea of her being played by Alison Hammond. I really don't know why, just because she's Brummie and she’s really funny.” There’s one person who needs to be involved: “I want Julie Walters to be my grandma,” said Rob.
My Son’s a Queer showcases the future of the West End
West End shows continue to emphasise LGBTQIA+ stories: & Juliet, Orlando, and Black Superhero to name a few.
But My Son’s a Queer is a real story of one person’s childhood and how their family celebrated and embraced their queerness. So for Rob to inspire the next generation is beyond their wildest dreams.
“When I first wrote it, I imagined it was a really niche theatregoing crowd, people that were in shows that got all the little references that I pepper in," Rob said. "But as we've gone on, those references have stayed. But the audience has just grown exponentially and become so much more three dimensional than I ever imagined.
“It’s important to let these grown up kids know they weren’t so isolated, there was a lot of us doing all of this ridiculous stuff, even if we didn't know it at the time," they continued. "So seeing young people bring their parents and then making return visits with grandparents is just mind blowing to me. And to be able to chat to those people afterwards is lovely. It makes me feel like I wasn't alone as a kid.”
My Son’s a Queer won’t be in the West End forever. Currently, the show is running at the Ambassadors Theatre to mid-March. But could this show be the momentum for even more LGBTQ+ stories to take centre stage? Rob has three hopes for the show’s legacy.
“I hope [the show] lets people see that these stories aren't that otherworldly and they can be really accessible — they can be programmed and people will come to watch them," Rob said. "I hope it gives faith to producers to have that confidence that they can press that green light, and those stories are very valuable and people will want to come and watch them. People just want good stories that are truthful and interesting.
"I hope it gives faith to other queer creatives out there to tell your story.”
Photo credit: My Son's a Queer, (But What Can You Do?) Photos by Mark Senior
Originally published on