Rob Madge spent quarantine playing dress up.
Or rather, they spent quarantine watching themselves play dress up. The West End performer, who first made a splash as a child actor in productions of Mary Poppins, Oliver, and Les Misérables, found themselves back in their childhood home in 2020, sifting through old home videos with wonder. Madge, who is non-binary and uses they/them pronouns, had a childhood that was atypical in ways beyond their preteen stardom. In a world where many queer coming-of-age experiences are rife with struggle and familial discord, Madge's was filled with support and overwhelming love from the word go.
When Madge began sharing snippets of these home movies online, the external response was immediate. "People would comment on the support system that I had at home and how amazing it was to have such an open-minded pair of parents," Madge explains. "They just fostered my creativity at every turn, no questions asked. 'Sure you can wear a dress, if that's what you fancy doing. You go for it, Rob.' That's the genesis of the show, really. It's about time that the good families get their credit."
My Son's A Queer (But What Can You Do?), now running on the West End at the Ambassadors Theatre, explores Madge's family's love through recreating one of Madge's childhood Disney parades, where their parents and grandparents came together to coordinate a gloriously theatrical display, complete with costumes and wigs.
Neither of Madge's parents are particularly theatrical; their father, an electrical wholesale supplier, is a "typical Northern bloke", and their mother a homemaker. When Madge developed an interest in theatre at a young age, they followed their child's passion without enforcing limitations. When the outside world was less than kind, Madge weathered the storm through the unconditional love that was fostered at home.
"Things will always be a little bit bumpy along the road. But as long as you know that you've got that safety net at home, then it makes everything matter a bit less on the outside. My school life wasn't great, but it didn't bother me half as much because I knew that I could come home and I could be who I wanted to be." Madge smiles softly, the dimple in their cheek appearing as it often did in the childhood videos that are shown throughout the show. "In my eyes, there will always be trials and tribulations. And it's up to parents to ensure that they're there to soften the blow, and to make everything else that little bit easier. There's so much hatred in the world. People don't necessarily understand me a lot of the time, but because I've got that support network, it makes me look at that negativity and think, 'Well, that doesn't really matter. What matters is the love that I have.'"
My Son's A Queer (But What Can You Do?) premiered Off-West End in 2021, became a sell-out smash at the 2022 Edinburgh Festival Fringe, and is now on its second West End run. While Madge originally wrote the show expecting it would appeal to a similar crowd as their social media following, it didn't take long for the themes of love and family to catch on with a wider audience.
"I originally wrote it for a very niche, small, theatre-loving crowd, people that would understand my references. As it's gone on, families have come to watch it. People that came are coming back, but bringing their parents, who, like my parents, are not really into theatre." Madge shakes their head with a smile. "I thought this was for a queer audience, but actually, it's a story of loving people, which is a very universal human thing, I suppose."
My Son's a Queer, (But What Can You Do?) plays London's Ambassadors Theatre through March 18. For tickets and more information, visit TheAmbassadorsTheatre.co.uk.