Le Gateau Chocolat: BLACK
Life-affirming portrait of a battle with depression
This article is from 2015.
Inspired by the recent passing of two of his closest friends, it would seem that Le Gateau Chocolat's new show could be downbeat – morbid, even. Not so – if anything, it is one of the most life-affirming, inventive and beautiful shows at the festival this year.
Following the opera / cabaret singer from backstage applying make-up and wig, he traces his journey from childhood in Nigeria to cabaret shows in London, via the liberation of his virtual fairy godmother Whitney Houston, whose ‘I Wanna Dance With Somebody’ is reimagined by him as a poignant cry for help. When his voice soars, it is as though a bullet flies into the audience.
He does not shy away from his own depression, which is the only time he directly talks to the audience, and he addresses homophobic beatings, his father's hostility and struggles with his weight. Similarly, there are some chilling musical moments – not least in a pared down rendering of Billie Holiday's ‘Strange Fruit’ which silences the room (its imagery of Southern lynchings still as powerful as when it was first written) or a stunning rendition of Purcell's ‘Dido's Lament’ alongside pianist David Merriman.
But this, as ever, is only half the picture with Chocolat: elsewhere, he is a mischievous, playful presence – an Esther Williams bathing belle,with vintage cap and swimsuit, or shimmying in furs; his impeccable comic timing and gestures a nod to vaudeville greats of the silver screen.
Threaded throughout are 'tips for fat people', audaciously campy segments in sketch form, or the adorable Little Black, an animation about growing up created by Mark Charlton that parodies the 70s kids cartoon Bod, complete with deadpan voiceover. After all, Bod was just a misunderstood little boy who liked dresses too.
A charismatic, gifted performer, Le Gateau Chocolat commands the space effortlessly, inducing tears and gales of laughter.
Assembly Hall, 623 3030, until 30 Aug (not 17), 4.50 pm, £11–£12 (£10).