Lost Boys and Fairies review: Gay adoption tale is a gut punch – you’ll be reaching for the tissues

Drama deals with themes from monogamy and parenting to homophobia, HIV, grief and depression. If that vast and painful canvas sounds bleak, writer Daf James manages to infuse it with a playfulness that offsets the darker tones

Nick Hilton
Monday 03 June 2024 22:00 BST
Lost Boys & Fairies - trailer

“Any a***hole can just shoot their load and make a baby,” comes the judgement of a prospective father in Lost Boys and Fairies, a new BBC One three-part drama. It takes a special kind of consciousness, however, to adopt a child. And that’s the journey undertaken here, in this Neverland-infused story of growing up, just in time.

Gay couple Gabriel (Sion Daniel Young) and Andy (Fra Fee) have decided to adopt a child. This byzantine process – facilitated by a kindly social worker, Jackie (Elizabeth Berrington) – is further complicated by Gabriel’s personal history. As the two men move towards a new life with a tricky seven-year-old boy called Jake (Leo Harris), Gabriel is forced to confront the challenges of his own childhood, having grown up in a repressed, and hyper-masculine, Welsh society that didn’t understand the closeted creative in its midst. When the panel convenes to assess the duo’s suitability to adopt, candidates are judged for their “health, finances, and childhood”. And only one of these causes Gabriel and Andy any issues.

Young may be familiar to viewers, either for his turn in Deceit, about the murder of Rachel Nickell, or for a scene-stealing performance in Slow Horses, where he played a slow-witted archivist, Douglas. Here he is allowed to freely exhibit a range of talents, drawing Gabriel out of his uptight shell and into exuberant, drag-adjacent, technicolour. The show’s musical numbers – ranging from the title song to a montaged version of “Mad World” by Tears for Fears – are anchored by Young’s superb vocal performance. It is a burst of dramatic joie de vivre that permeates the grey veneer of suburban Cardiff. “I’m utterly bored with the mundanity of life,” Gabriel spits, but the world of Lost Boys and Fairies is far from mundane.

This is a tale, conceived by Welsh writer Daf James – a multidisciplinary queer artist who, like Gabriel, performs as an alter-ego, Sue – that tackles some of the biggest issues facing the gay community. The core question of dealing with the heteronormativity of long-term monogamy (marriage is described as “what straight couples do when they’ve run out of things to say”) and parenting is contrasted with more community-specific issues, like homophobia and HIV, as well as a litany of other challenges, from sexual assault and addiction to grief and depression. If that vast and painful canvas sounds bleak, James manages to infuse it with a playfulness that offsets the darker tones.

Less successful, though, is the attempt to avoid melodrama. A drama about a gay couple adopting, set against the backdrop of queer nightlife in Cardiff, was already a compelling premise. But like so many “issues” stories, Lost Boys and Fairies overdoes its attempt to illustrate the challenges of modern life. “Whatever’s happened to you,” Jackie tells Gabriel, as little Jake enters his life, “he’s been through a hell of a lot worse.” True as this might be, Gabriel, too, has been put through the emotional wringer. When Gabriel and Andy sit with Jackie and describe their motivations for adopting, the story feels true – but, by the end, cliché has taken over. And a plea to all music supervisors: stop using Max Richter’s “On the Nature of Daylight” as a cheap shortcut to profundity. All the same, you’ll regret not having a box of tissues at the ready.

There’s such a winning charisma at play in Lost Boys and Fairies – and such a fine central performance – that it’s tempting to forgive these moments when the visual experimentation of the show is undermined by its narrative triteness. James has crafted a show that is a gut punch – albeit a deliberate, rather than instinctive one – and one that deserves to be seen, and reflected on, by primetime audiences.

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