Actor/writer Rob Madge have just been nominated for an Olivier award for their one-person show My Son’s a Queer (But What Can You Do?). I met them in a dressing room at London’s Ambassadors Theatre, where their show is running until April 1.
You can read my review of this marvellous show here.
“I wasn’t seeing stories that I thought best represented my community: I was seeing queer stories about tragedy and trauma: that’s important, I can’t deny it. However, we’re in a time of so much division and hatred that we need an alternative – of happiness, comedy, something uplifting, that makes you leave the theatre hopeful,“ they told me.
“I wanted to show that the common image of gay men as victims is not it. We’re perfectly normal human beings. There’s nothing scary about our community.”
The core of their show, playing to sell-out audiences, and the cause of much of its touching humour, comes from the home movies Rob made as a child, putting on shows for parents and grandparents at Christmas, with Rob starring as a wide range of costumed Disney characters.
“I didn’t know you could still get VCRs (video cassette recorders to young readers), and I’d not seen the videos for years. My father is the hero of this show.” Rob admitted the material is very close to them, but their method of distancing themselves is straightforward: “I’m talking about me and my family in the show but I’m playing a character -it’s only funny if the audience sides with my dad.”
When we spoke the show had just clocked up its 100th performance – the piece having been staged first at Edinburgh and then in the West End before this revival. There’s a dark strand to the material too – featuring true stories of bullying, and hurtful notes from teachers in Rob’s school reports.
“ I can deal with it – I’m a storyteller. I can distance myself to stop it being overwhelming every night.”The creative play space at school became Rob’s first experience of theatre. “It’s ironic teachers noted I was one of the only pupils to use it, and that there had to be a problem with that.”
The home and school play-acting led to the real thing; at age nine Rob was in the West End in Mary Poppins. “ I used to read Young Performers magazine and saw there were auditions. I thought: it will be a fun day out.” Their fun day turned into performances in the show for two years, several times a week in a starring role as Michael. They were put up two nights a week with other cast children in a flat owned by impresario Cameron Macintosh. Though they were away from their family, Rob says they took to it “like a duck to water”.
Other starring roles followed – notably as the Artful Dodger in Oliver! and as the cheeky boy Gavroche in Les Miserables – including the film of the 25th anniversary concert version. It was a child star career that’s lasted from age nine to 14. “Then when your voice breaks, it all stops.”
Rob found going to university – at Warwick near their home – was a good move. “It helped me massively to step away. Between 2012-18 I really grew up – I was totally away from the industry.”
And Rob adds that going back onstage has given them a much better perspective on comedy. “I love telling stories and making people laugh; it’s my favourite thing to do.” On their current show, Rob says: “I’ve done it in small runs; if it went on and on I’d lose it : I need to take breaks. I’ve no idea what’s next, but it’s different every night – it evolves. I’m preaching to the choir (by which they mean their audience is predominantly queer). “I do want a straight audience. I hope the word queer becomes meaningless.”
Some of the fun of the show is just how confident and precocious the young Rob comes across in the videos. Asked to give advice to that young Rob, they told me: “Never pack up your suitcase (a reference to a scene in the show about quitting), don’t listen to people who tell you that you can’t be different, because one day you’ll be celebrated for it – oh and invest in better hair products.”
My Son’s A Queer is at the Ambassadors Theatre, London until April 1. Tickets at atgtickets.com
You must be logged in to post a comment.