My Son’s a Queer (But What Can You Do?) at the Garrick Theatre review: a joyful love letter to self-expression

 (Mark Senior)
(Mark Senior)

This is the little show that could. Rob Madge’s short, sweet, autobiographical solo musical premiered at Battersea’s Turbine Theatre in 2021, was a hit at the Edinburgh Fringe and now comes to the West End in a burst of DIY fabulousness.

It’s a joyful love letter to self-expression and to Coventry-born Madge’s parents, who strove for six years to conceive a child through IVF, and then enabled their precocious, stage-struck only son to evolve into the charismatic, non-binary performer of today.

It began life in 2020 when Madge began posting online VHS videos of the shows they put on as a child in the family living room. In most of them, they’re in a wig and a dress as a Disney heroine – Mary Poppins, The Little Mermaid, Belle from Beauty and the Beast - and many involve their dad, John, as willing stooge and straight man.

Those videos now form the spine of the show, with Madge describing the arc of his personal and professional evolution through cheerfully inspirational, self-penned songs in between. To call it a multimedia show would be drastically to overrate the sophistication of Nineties video technology, however.

 (Mark Senior)
(Mark Senior)

The set by Ryan Dawson Laight is a fantasy version of that Midlands living room, where the sideboard contains a bank of spotlights, a chest of drawers represents a stairway to stardom and a big, illuminated version of a TV screen hangs above.

Madge - mustachioed, shaven-headed, in a babydoll dress over vest and shorts – invites us to laugh at and with the attention-seeking tot who appears on it, hogging the camera and announcing each new performance with the demand “drumroll please!” The arch demeanour of the grown-up Madge means there’s a little bit of lemon mixed in to temper the sheer, delicious egotism of the younger one.

The serious point is that teachers and friends tried to stifle the exuberance that would eventually give Madge a career as a child performer, then an adult, in musicals. “Rob needs to be careful that his dramatic facial expressions don’t upset some of his peers,” reads one of many infant school reports that suggest Madge spends too much time in the classroom’s imaginative play area.

Madge’s parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, meanwhile, made costumes and puppet theatres for young Rob, created a Peter Pan flying rig on the garden swing, and were generally nothing but loving and brilliant.

It’s hard not to be moved by the family’s reciprocated affection and care, though it does result in a sameness of tone throughout a show that is, at just over an hour, on the slender side. Madge has a strong voice and writes witty lyrics, but the tunes are generic inspirational ballads. These are minor quibbles, though, with a charming piece of work that clearly strikes a deep chord.

Garrick Theatre, to November 6; for tickets visit ES Tickets