26 October 2022
Unusually for one of my reviews, I will start by talking about myself. As a child I was, generally, regarded as quiet and shy. My slightly older sister had taken up ballet lessons when young and decided that she would like to bring ballet into our home – but with my help. The living room door was the proscenium arch; a tablecloth the curtains. Our parents would be on the settee inside the living room as we performed in the hall – behind the pros. However, I issued the sternest of warnings to Mummy and Daddy, “Don’t laugh”. They found it difficult with my 7 year-old legs encased in a pair of my sister’s ballet tights. Not the last time I wore tights – a few Dames and Ugly Sisters later…..
I mention this episode in my life as it all came flooding back on witnessing this precious and joyous play.
Rob Madge’s desire to be on stage from a young age was a dream that would come true for them. Their love of dressing up and creating theatre virtually part of their life from the moment of birth. They too put on shows at home – and, as we find out too – many others have done the same – and so, on a set representative of their living room at home, Rob takes us on a journey through their life to where they are now.
This is just about the most perfect piece of theatre. There. I’ve said it.
In telling their tale, Rob has the most wonderful facility up their sleeve. Video. Video tapes made by their Dad of the rehearsals, the outtakes, the performances, audience reactions and backstage squabbles. Oh if only good old VHS had been around when I was growing up.
So, from the moment the lights go down and we witness the first clip of film from the young Madge, we know we are in for something special. Instant audience reaction – it’s one of the best openings to a show ever – I mean, ever! And so everyone is caught up in what they are watching and for the next 65 minutes, nothing changes – the audience is hooked and part of this extraordinary and original piece of storytelling. At the climax of the show – Rob’s re-creation of the Disney Princess Parade of their childhood – the audience are fit to burst.
Madge tells their story by themself, intermittently pausing to peruse tangible memories of their childhood; a school backpack, puppets from their toy theatre and their beautiful yellow dress as per ‘Belle’ from ‘Beauty and the Beast’ – yes, the dresses were (and are) everything to them. We hear snips of their school reports; comments from teachers and with them bring the judgments. Judgments on a young boy who wants to express themself, but as a result lacks friends. From moment to moment throughout there is silence – complete silence in the theatre – no words are necessary and the tears roll down the cheeks. It is some of the most profound moments I have experienced in the theatre – as young Rob boxes up their costumes and toys and tries to conform. Thank heavens for their family – again – and the present of a wonderful toy theatre with fabulous puppets, crafted by loving grandparents.
Madge’s story carries messages with it, some very subtle and some slightly less so, but this is not a didactic piece of theatre; the love of a family shines through as does the willingness to allow a child to express themselfand follow their dream naturally. It is a lucid and winning script which, occasionally naughty, is still accessible to all – the make-up of the audience was incredibly diverse. So engaging is the story-teller that the audience is left wanting more, but, nevertheless more than satisfied that they have undone a gift in glittering wrapping paper which they love and will be with them for a long time to come.
The perfectly designed set, complete with very large ‘TV screen’ is ideal and welcoming and the video design – obviously assisted by the archive footage – is huge fun. Throughout there are songs by Pippa Cleary which combine all the elements of Rob’s story and each one is beautifully performed by the star of the show.
I can only assume that Director, Luke Sheppard, allowed Madge to just be themself – it is a wonderfully natural and unfussy production.
The show will make you laugh and make you cry; it is honest and true; it has song and dance; it has costumes and special effects; it tells a great story; it is beautifully written; it is beautifully told; it has wide appeal and it is has had successful runs at The Turbine Theatre and at the Edinburgh Fringe and is now packing them in in the West End – oh, and it is just 65 minutes long and worth every penny you care to spend on a ticket. It will stir up memories as it did with me and you will sit back and admire the performer whose childhood ambitions lead to him performing in ‘Les Miserables’ and ‘Mary Poppins’ before adulthood.
You will come away with a wide smile on your face with cheeks still damp from tears. You will be made to think deeply in the most gentle unassuming way. You will have been joyfully entertained from the moment the lights dim and you will remember spending an hour or so with Rob Madge. Tell me what show offers more!
Sublime and quietly brilliant!
CAST & CREATIVES
WRITTEN & PERFORMED BY ROB MADGE
DIRECTOR – LUKE SHEPPARD
SET & COSTUME DESIGN – RYAN DAWSON LAIGHT
LIGHTING DESIGN – JAI MORJARIA
SOUND DESIGN – TINGYING DONG
VIDEO & PROJECTION DESIGN – GEORGE REEVE
SONGS – PIPPA CLEARY
ORCHESTRATIONS – SIMON NATHAN