About Time You Met: Le Gateau ChocolatBy Ollie Jones-Evans
Le Gateau Chocolat was six years old when a lifeguard in Nigeria told him to take off his sister’s two-piece bathing suit: he was upsetting the other swimmers.
And so began a lifetime of small, unjust persecutions. He has been the victim of violence and hatred and, at times, his own self loathing.
Le Gateau Chocolat is a cabaret star with a magnificent operatic voice – one that’s filled the Sydney Opera House, the Royal Albert Hall, and your bedroom (he was the face and voice of the T-Mobile flash mob advert). He usually performs in a lycra leotard and eyelashes heavy enough to close a drawbridge.
Originally commissioned by international LGBT festival Homotopia, Le Gateau Chocolat’s performance, Black, has made its way to the Soho Theatre. With the help of director Ed Burnside, Le Gateau Chocolat merges his exceptional cabaret style with a stripped back, one man show exploring the memes of black: ‘Black music; black and blue; black sheep; black dog … but more importantly how people have been black at some point in their life.’
Black is not a piece of theatre that shies away from personal issues. But at its best, Black shows us much more: that no issue is singular to anybody. As Gateau says: ‘Before drag, before performance, before fabulosity, before glitter and before lycra – we’re all human beings first.’
You get the feeling this show was a long time coming. As we sit down in a poky back room after a technical rehearsal, I ask him, why now? ‘It was really inspired by the fact I suffer from depression and I’ve always wanted to talk about it. And I think I came of age where I could talk about it in my work.’
Gateau, like many who experience depression, is aware of the often precarious balance between good days and bad days. A few days after his 30th birthday, he received news of a good friend who took her own life. ‘I was celebrating joy and friendship and laughter, and someone that I knew was saying no to all those things and deciding it wasn’t enough… Not only was it saddening, it was terrifying. Because anyone who has depression has the propensity to go there.’
But Black is not a vehicle for Gateau to exorcise his own demons. It’s a torch. It’s about the commonality of us all. ‘Things like laughing, crying, the need to succeed and dreams. As opposed to ‘you’re gay, I’m straight; ‘you have kids, I don’t’; ‘you’re married, I’m single’.’ His voice and story is coming from an honest, genuine place. ‘There’s a tendency to see people onstage as people who aren’t real, but that’s not to say my depression isn’t just as real as yours. It’s something that doesn’t discriminate.’
The glue that holds it all together is his huge, beautiful voice. He sings Wagner and Purcell; he sings Nina Simone and Whitney, placing amazing songs in his own personal, emotional context – but one you can relate to.
As we talk about the waves we unknowingly leave in other people’s lives, Gateau says: ‘We’re all the same, and you might not be aware of the power of what you’re going to say, but it doesn’t change the effect it’s going to have on someone’s life.’ We were talking about something negative – the path to self loathing. But on reflection, Gateau could have been talking about Black. It’s a story he was compelled to tell, and if you have ever felt like an outsider, then you simply must see it.
Le Gateau Chocolat: Black runs until 24th May at Soho Theatre. Book here.