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A CurtainUp London London Review
Le Gateau Chocolat

by Sebastian King

"Drag is about whatever you want it to be. "— Le Gateau Chocolat
Le Gateau Chocolat
Company in Le Gateau Chocolat
(Photo: Simon Nicol)
For the uninitiated, let’s make this clear: this show has nothing whatsoever to do with cake. Le Gateau Chocolat is the eponymous writer and performer who is fast becoming a cabaret legend, having performed internationally as part of La Clique and La Soirée, and more recently in this, his first solo show which makes its London debut at the Menier Chocolate Factory.

As Gateau himself makes very clear, labels are limiting. But allow me to paint something of a picture. Imagine a larger-than-life bearded Nigerian drag queen, clad head-to-toe in Lycra, with a rich operatic bass voice, and you’ll begin to get a sense of Le Gateau Chocolat. But you won’t really understand just how appropriate his stage moniker is until you’ve witnessed him in performance. Just like a big slice of chocolate cake, Gateau’s show is delicious, sweet, moreish, and just a little bit naughty.

As we enter the auditorium, we brush past rails full of brightly coloured glittery costumes, and the stage itself — designed by Ryan Laight — takes us backstage, adorned with yet more costumes, a dressing table and a four-piece band, led by Matthew Carey. When Gateau enters, it is from the back of the auditorium, dressed in a black cloak, singing ‘As If We Never Said Goodbye’ from Sunset Boulevard, and he transforms into his stage persona over the course of the number, ditching the cloak for a green Lycra ‘Riddler’ costume covered in question marks. These question marks, we discover, are representative of the many questions Gateau finds himself frequently bombarded with: ‘Why Lycra? Why opera? Why make-up and a beard?’ To all of which his answer is a resounding ‘Why not?’ As he guides us through key moments in his life, performing a repertoire that takes in Streisand, Sondheim, Madonna and Radiohead, it is clear that ‘Why not?’ is the ethos of the evening.

Jamsheed Master’s clever and creative arrangements of an eclectic mix of songs is played exquisitely by the small band. Le Gateau Chocolat himself is an engaging and endearing personality, and it’s impossible not to warm to him. He has the audience in the palm of his hand, commanding raucous laughter one moment (in his lip-synched tribute to Susan Boyle for example) and absolute silence the next, such as when he reflects on his first love with a heartfelt rendition of Nick Cave’s ‘The Ship Song.’ He talks candidly about the difficulties he has faced in his life due to his sexuality, colour and size, and of the precarious relationship with his mother in Nigeria, who has no idea that her son is gay and performs in Lycra for a living.

Of course at the end of the day a cabaret singer rises or falls on their voice. And what a voice. Whether gyrating around the auditorium vocalising Madonna’s ‘Holiday’ or riffing his way through Prince/Sinead O’ Connor’s ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’, Gateau has a fine deep vibrato, as smooth and velvety as any chocolate cake. But what’s more, Gateau is an adept storyteller, and he brings to each lyric an incisive honesty that is completely captivating. His rendition of ‘Ol’ Man River’ made me hear this familiar song anew, and his ‘NessunDorma’ finale is spine-tingling. There is no question that this is a performer destined for greatness – don’t miss this opportunity to catch a taste of Chocolat at the Chocolate Factory.

Le Gateau Chocolat
Written and performed by Le Gateau Chocolat

Associate Director: Edward Burnside
Costume Design: Horatio Jones
Set Design: Ryan Laight
Musical Director: Matthew Carey
Musical Arrangements: Jamsheed Master
Lighting: Justin Marshman
Running time: 1 hour 30 minutes without an interval
Box Office: 020 7907 7060
Booking to 26th August 2012
Reviewed by Sebastian King based on 15th August 2012 performance at Menier Chocolate
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