From a grounded insight into the trials and tribulations of the adoption process to a fantastical musical set in Cardiff's fictional answer to Moulin Rouge, the BBC's audacious new drama Lost Boys & Fairies is many things.


For many LGBTQ+ viewers, however, it's the show's remarkably visceral handling of gay shame that will resonate the most.

Anyone who grew up in the '80s will undoubtedly identify with the fear immediately instilled in Gabe (Sion Daniel Young) on watching Margaret Thatcher's Section 28 speech and those doom-laden AIDS awareness ads in which a booming John Hurt warned, "Don't die of ignorance."

The scene where young Gabe is spanked by his father Emrys (William Thomas) simply for trying on a dress will strike a chord with anyone punished while growing up for challenging, whether intentionally or not, the heteronormative norm.

Based on Welsh playwright Daf James's own life experiences, Lost Boys & Fairies repeatedly flashes back to such formative moments, explaining why Gabe is by far the most troubled half of the show's central couple.

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While Andy (Fra Fee) is a well-adjusted, practically saintlike figure with a respectable nine-to-five and a penchant for domesticity, Gabe is a recovering drug and sex addict who only ever seems comfortable in his own skin while belting out ballads at the local gay bar.

Gabriel and Andy wearing Superman t-shirts, sitting next to one another, with their heads leaning on one another
Lost Boys & Fairies. Duck Soup Films/Simon Ridgway

The differences between the aspiring adoptees are apparent from the opening moment in which they're interviewed by kind-hearted social worker Jackie (Elizabeth Berrington), disagreeing on marriage, paternity leave and, perhaps most notably, the gender of the child they want to adopt.

"Boys are nothing but trouble," Gabe reasons. And he's speaking from experience.

As a schoolboy, he had his head flushed down the toilet, was taped to the cubicle doors alongside the word 'fairy' and inflicted with so much general trauma that it still impacts him decades on: anyone picked last in PE will understand how even a simple kickabout with Jake (Leo Harris), the seven-year-old foster kid who makes him completely reevaluate his adoption wish list, can reduce the grown-up Gabe to a quivering wreck.

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Andy still has plenty of childhood baggage himself, namely being abandoned by his father for a new family, yet he does have at least one supportive parent (a scene-stealing Maria Doyle Kennedy).

Having lost his own mum to a brain haemorrhage from a young age and his dad to religious repression, though, Gabe has had to struggle with his queer identity alone.

Gabriel leaning against a railing
Sion Daniel Young as Gabriel. Duck Soup Films/Simon Ridgway

That's an experience which manifests itself in increasingly dark ways. The terrifying Satanic figure, which bursts through the teenage Gabe's bedroom walls whenever he has same-sex impulses and briefly pushes the drama firmly into hide-behind-the-sofa horror territory, may have been a figment of his imagination.

But the descent into substance abuse and reckless sexual activity – glimpses of a cocaine-fuelled orgy and a truly nightmarish chemsex session suggests the two were intertwined – is, sadly, the all-too-real way he tries to keep such demons at bay.

Gabe's national identity has also proven to be a barrier in accepting who he is.

"I didn't feel like I could be queer in Welsh," he tells Andy. "Plus, I don't like the Welsh words for gay. Gwrywgydiwr – man gripper – makes me sound like a JCB."

Although we later learn in a fascinating linguistic lesson that he's misunderstood the term, his refusal to send any adopted child to a Welsh-speaking school still makes sense.

This inherent need to distance himself from anything which compounded his shame also applies to Gabe's relationship with his father, a man of few words whose initial concerns about the concept of gay adoption only deepens their rift. When Emrys tactlessly argues, "Every kid needs a mother," you can almost hear his son's heart shattering into a million pieces.

It's little wonder Gabe continually questions whether he has, or even deserves, the ability to offer a vulnerable young kid love when that’s something his own childhood was so devoid of.

However, even when supported by his alternative father figure, veteran drag queen Fanny Ample (Arwel Gruffydd), he still struggles with acceptance, both from himself and others. ("We used to be attacked by straights for being too queer. Now the queers are attacking us for not being queer enough.")

It's only when Gabe is forced to deal with another major tragedy, and one which threatens to send the otherwise balanced drama into grief porn territory, that his cycle of shame shows signs of abating. Of course, by this point, any sympathy may have been eradicated altogether.

Gabriel stroking Jake's head while he's tucked up in bed
Leo Harris as Jake and Sion Daniel Young as Gabriel. Duck Soup Films/Simon Ridgway

Indeed, while Young delivers a brilliantly nuanced performance, Gabe isn't a particularly easy character to root for. He's prone to spitting his dummy out at the merest sign of conflict and he continually puts his needs as a performer and partygoer above his roles as partner and prospective parent (his recklessness in the final episode – a particularly tough watch – will be a bridge too far for many).

But neither is he a lost cause, his natural ability to communicate with others and sardonic humour no doubt the kind of qualities that attracted Andy, while the determination to better himself proves he desperately wants to overcome his insidious inner voice.

Premiering at the start of Pride Month, Lost Boys & Fairies isn't exactly a celebratory experience. But anyone who's ever internalised similar feelings should find plenty to relate to and, after much soul-searching, a sense that it really does get better.

All three episodes of Lost Boys & Fairies are now available to stream on BBC iPlayer. Episodes will also air weekly on Mondays at 9pm on BBC One.


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