Later this month, Rob Madge will be performing in their own play My Son’s a Queer But What Can You Do? at the Turbine Theatre from 17th June to the 3rd July, having written the lyrics and music with Pippa Cleary, and the show will be directed by Luke Sheppard. Rob will also be part of Legends of Lockdown LIVE! in the West End on 9th June, after sharing the sketches over the last year they have written and starting their successful TikTok account. Before theatres had closed due to COVID, Rob had been touring in Les Misérables as Jean Prouvaire, also covering the role of Grantaire and, having performed in theatre as a child, their roles had included Michael Banks in Mary Poppins and Artful Dodger in Oliver!. During the pandemic, Rob has been involved in a number of projects including a Leave a Light On concert and a sixty-minute musical with Royal Academy of Music where they’d previously trained. Speaking with Rob recently, they talk about My Son’s a Queer But What Can You Do?, touring with Les Misérables and their TikTok videos.
You have written and will be performing in My Son’s a Queer But What Can You Do?, can you tell us about the show?
In 2009 I put on a Disney parade in my house for my Grandma. I played Mary Poppins, Mickey Mouse, Ariel, and Belle (to name a few). There were lots of costume changes. Unfortunately, it didn’t go as planned. Cues were missed, the floats got stuck as they tried to leave the kitchen (I say floats, we could only afford an office chair) and the costumes went awry. In this show, I’ll be setting out to recreate this parade but, in order to ensure it’s more successful than the 2009 incarnation, I’ll be delving through old home videos of when I used to force my family to help me put on shows in the living room to see where it all went wrong. It’ll be joyful and chaotic and hopefully take everybody back to those childhood living room spectaculars.
How did the play come about and how long have you been working on it?
A few months ago I started sharing some of these videos online and I was blown away by their response. People found them ridiculous and hilarious but there was also a sense of bittersweet in that so many other queer people didn’t have a family that were as willing to get onboard with their child’s flamboyance. So, I set out in writing a show that hopefully acts as a love letter to these brilliant queer people and is also lesson to those parents that might not be as proud to see their son dressed as Ariel: have a laugh.
What are you most looking forward to for the upcoming run at the Turbine Theatre from 17th June to 3rd July and working with director Luke Sheppard?
It’s actually not the first time I’ve worked with Luke. He was my director when I was in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Matilda The Musical as a kid. So, really, I just can’t wait to do it all again from a slightly taller perspective (only slightly. Still quite short).
How has it been writing the lyrics/music for the show with Pippa Cleary?
Pippa has breathed new life into this show and it’s more than I could have ever dreamed. I knew the sort of sound it needed – those flashy 90s Disney shows in front of the castle were always a good reference point – but actually hearing that world you have in your head come to life was the most thrilling experience.
How do you think you’ll feel on opening night performing in your own show?
It will be surreal. I keep having to laugh at the whole thing, to be honest. I think if I don’t laugh, I’ll get a bit overwhelmed. I mean, it’s ridiculous. I’m putting on a show about the shows that I put on in my living room. If I could tell twelve-year-old Rob that their Disney parade that went so badly wrong will end up being on at the Turbine Theatre, I think I’d be less upset that the costumes went awry. I can’t wait to share the experience with a live audience, especially after sharing content online for most of the year. Being able to finally experience something together as a community will be quite special.
You’ve been announced to be part of Legends of Lockdown LIVE! at the Vaudeville Theatre on 9th June, can you say more about this?
All I can say is I’m very excited! Throughout the pandemic I’ve tried to keep myself entertained by doing little sketches on social media and I’m just happy they’ve entertained other people in the process. Looking forward to entertaining everyone in person!
Before lockdown, you had been touring in Les Misérables as Jean Prouvaire, how had this been going?
It was a great experience. I’d done Les Mis as a child so to return as an adult felt like a lovely full circle moment. When you’re touring, your workmates really become an extended family – you travel with them, live with them, die on barricades with them. It was devastating when the run got cut short by the pandemic but it’s exciting seeing it all slowly return.
You were first cover Grantaire, what was the role like to learn?
Grantaire’s such a fun role because he’s such a cynic. He’s a bit of an observer rather than a participator, commenting on the bravado of the others whilst being smart enough to understand it will not end well for them. To play that sort of comic intelligence is always fun.
What are some of your highlights from your time touring with the production?
We were lucky enough to go to Zurich for a month. That was really special. We’d ask if you could hear the people sing, then pop up a mountain the next morning. Nice job to have really.
Can you tell us about playing Monty Montashoe in Timpson the Musical?
I loved doing Timpson. The whole thing was written by uni friends so to be part of that from the beginning and then see it be so successful at Edinburgh and then on tour made me feel very proud. It was really laugh-a-minute. What else can you expect from a musical about key cutting and shoes?
As a child actor, you played Artful Dodger in Oliver! and Michael Banks in Mary Poppins both in the West End, which led to you performing on TV, what were these like to do?
I always feel lucky in having quite literally the best introduction to the industry possible with Mary Poppins. I was nine years old, it was my favourite film growing up, a Disney show?! Dream come true material. As I was so young and it was my first job, it really was magical. I still don’t know how half of the special effects work. And Dodger was also so much fun. I seemed to make a living out of playing little Cockney children.
Having had many roles as a child actor, what are some of your favourite memories from this time?
That first show of Mary Poppins will always be a very special memory. It was something I had always wanted and it felt like all those years of throwing on wigs and putting on those shows in the living room had led up to that moment. Although, I think I might have forgotten my lines at one point. Shockingly unprofessional behaviour.
What are some of the theatre-related projects you’ve been involved with during the pandemic?
As well as writing and sharing sketches, I was lucky enough to put on my Leave a Light On concert from home (putting on shows in my living room again. Nothing changes really). I was also asked by the Royal Academy of Music to appear in one of their online shows Held Momentarily. We ended up filming a sixty-minute musical remotely from home. Green screens were involved. We were directed over Zoom as we filmed it on our phones. This was around the time we were being told that theatre wasn’t viable and couldn’t adapt. Yeah, they were wrong.
Where does your love of performing come from and how did you start?
I honestly have no idea how it all started because I can’t think of a moment where it wasn’t part of my life. All I knew was that I was a bit different to my peers at primary school. They’d run off to the playground at break times but I’d stay in the classroom by the dressing up box and pretend to be a princess. Performing was always something I gravitated to. My parents spotted that and encouraged it. They’d help me put on shows in the lounge, they let me go to Stagecoach, they’d take me down to London to audition for Mary Poppins. So, although I don’t know how my love for it started, I do know that it was nourished and for that I’m very grateful.
How did you find the experience training at Royal Academy of Music and can you tell us about some of the shows you appeared in whilst there?
I did a one year Masters in Musical Theatre from 2018-19 and it was the reminder I desperately needed to pursue this career. After working as a child actor, I took some time away from the industry (I’d done it from the age of nine to sixteen and wanted to experience something a bit different) so I went to University of Warwick (which I loved) and then, once I graduated from there, I started auditioning again. It was quite the wake up call. Rejection after rejection and I started to doubt myself. I thought “I’ll audition for RAM. Probably won’t accept me but I’ll give it a go”. I’m very relieved that they did. They rebuilt the confidence I had as a nine year old in Mary Poppins. Whilst there, I played Buddy and Angel City 4 in City of Angels and ended up directing and co-writing our final year cabaret. That was really the moment that made me realise writing was something else I needed to pursue.
Do you have any favourite theatre shows to watch and how is it seeing the industry reopening?
I mean, the list is endless. I think there will be such a buzz being in any audience right now. I am biased but I would love to see Mary fly down to Cherry Tree Lane when she returns. The atmosphere will be electric. Seeing the industry reopen is thrilling and I hope we all remember the lessons learned over the past year. If companies stay true to their promise of more diverse, inclusive casting, it’s going to be a very exciting time for theatre.
Can you tell us about your TikTok account and what encouraged you to start one?
I’d always been scared by the idea of TikTok. I’d downloaded then immediately deleted the app more times than I can count. I finally decided to commit to it a couple of months ago and I feel silly for taking so long. I wanted to start one because my content is primarily video based and I wasn’t sharing any of it on the video based platform. Again, seems silly.
How is it seeing the viewers’ response to the videos and what upcoming plans do you have for your TikTok?
The response is overwhelming. I’m chuffed people enjoy the videos. I certainly enjoy making them. For the future, there’s plenty more living room performances to share, theatre-related sketches and general footage of my parents being all-round gay icons.
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