Le Gateau Chocolat is renowned as a sumptuous, decadent treat: his monumental yet playful stage presence, that rich, emotional earthquake of a voice, the beard and, not least, all that lycra. Yet those who have followed his performative trajectory will know that this lavish spectacle has always been laced with something deeper and darker which is perhaps not black but a deliciously painful blue. Chocolat’s powerful voice comes straight from the heart and in his latest show Black he openly exposes the wretched depths of his soul that have undoubtedly always coloured the timbre of his delivery.
The “blackness” of this autobiographical production is more than skin deep; galloping through show tunes and opera arias, Chocolat explores the categorisations that have led him to feel excluded: not only being black but also being gay, being overweight and being depressed.
His repertoire has always been eclectic. Appearances in his own productions as well as spots at globe-trotting variety show La Soiree have seen him turn his hand to anything from opera to pop to showtunes, and Black is no different with its harrowing rendition of Strange Fruit through to his comical and creative Shopping Lessons For Fat People. Given the breadth of his creative spectrum, it is somewhat surprising and disappointing to see Chocolat pigeonholing his identity into such cut and clear boxes. Although these undoubtedly hurtful labels are those that have been imposed from the outside world and the show is brave and hopeful in addressing their impact, there is potential within Black’s remit for a more complex interior interrogation of this magnificent performer’s individual and cultural identity.
Obviously, being “black” in all its implied guises is deliberately a reduction but still effectively communicates the limiting and damaging effect of casting people as something “other” with all its pariah connotations. However, it also gave a certain smallness to the soul-delving element of the piece. For a performer whose differences have set him apart artistically, a partial celebration of his “otherness” would not be out of place in Black. Nevertheless, as a beautiful representation of sorrow and aching hope, the show was exquisite. The continual return to different forms of blackness and fresh waves of self-pity were inflected with the hateful solipsism that anyone who has ever suffered from depression will instantly recognise.
Black. Performed by Le Gateau Chocolat. Soho Theatre, London W1D 3NE. Until 24 May. £15 (discounts available). www.sohotheatre.co.uk