As a child, Rob Madge had an obsession with Disney musicals and the various shows presented at Disney’s global chain of Parks. It was the late 90’s, and early 00’s, and so this obsession manifested itself in Rob turning his childhood home into an approximation of Disneyland, and staging parades of the sort that you’d see on Main Street in their daily shows – and Rob’s parents not only indulged this, but also videoed Rob’s early attempts at entertainment for posterity. Not for the first time as you watch this show will you thank Rob’s parents for their encouragement of their child’s interests.
Now, some twenty years later, Rob is here to tell us a tale of how to make a brilliant show, but also, more profoundly, how, as parents and other relatives, we can support the younger people in our lives to be true to themselves, and become the people they truly are.
Through song and a lot of those childhood videos, Rob weaves a story of acceptance and understanding, and a high degree of childhood precociousness. It’s an upbeat story of a child who became a child actor and appeared on the West End stage, in a national tour of Les Miserables (from which the title of this show is partly drawn), and at one point seems to have appeared on Blue Peter talking about their career as a child actor. You can probably tell that it all gets a bit, well, meta.
Rob’s “seven step plan” for putting on a successful show is a useful framing device to rein in what could otherwise be a loose and muddled story. By showing us the stages of development, experiment and realisation, Rob shows us not only how to Put On A Show, but also how to navigate new understandings of ourselves. We return frequently throughout this show to Rob’s parents. Rob is very honest here, explaining that they were a long wished for child, and what was then known as a ‘test-tube’ baby.
By implication, they are an only child, and it is clear that Rob’s parents showered Rob with love, encouragement and a remarkably early acceptance of who Rob was to become when they grew older. There’s a particularly poignant moment when Rob recalls a comment on one of their YouTube uploads (they had a channel at an early age), to which Rob’s dad had replied – it’s a comment of love, and acceptance, and the kind of approach that every queer person hopes to receive from their own parents. As Rob says – their dad in four lines sums up what they’ve taken an hour to state in this show.
As with any Disney Park show, the highlight here is the Parade at the end – a climax much foreshadowed throughout the hour that has come before. After a brief moment for a costume change Rob returns, triumphant, and reveals four costumes in less than two minutes that recreate, with a much higher budget, child-Rob’s first forays into realising their Disney-based ambitions.
Underneath the glitter, the music, the reminiscing, and the twenty-year old video tapes, here is a show with enormous heart, that will bring all but the most hard-hearted of cynics to tears. An astounding piece of gloriously flamboyant story-telling, with the glitter dialled up to eleven, this is a joyous celebration of queerness, family, and Disney, delivered with love and passion by a person who found the courage to be who they are through the support of others who never doubted the truth of the child they were raising.
And is case you’re wondering, yes, that’s the same Rob Madge who played Oscar/Krislok in Sarah Jane Adventures.