Edinburgh Festival Fringe theatre review: Le Gateau Chocolat: Black, reviewed by The Scotsman’s Ben Walters
Thanks to show-stealing turns in La Clique and La Soirée, as well as barnstorming solo productions of his own, Le Gateau Chocolat is known for getting the party started with his extraordinary room-filling baritone and distinctive taste in outsized Spandex onesies. This is a different Gateau Chocolat, however. The voice is still there in full effect but Black is a much more intimate and melancholic affair – a personal history of the challenges that have taken the performer deep into the realm of depression. It’s still funny and compelling – just don’t come expecting a carefree romp.
The story takes us through the performer’s young life, from childhood and adolescence in Nigeria to student days in the UK and eventual crisis resulting from the long denial of dreams of diva-hood.
Formally, Black deploys a wide array of modes to serve this story: simple, cute animations of childhood hopes and disillusions; jaunty comic “tips for the fat” on dealing with social situations once the effects of comfort eating become too obvious; audio recordings of first-person testimony recalling challenging times.
And, of course, the spine of the show is the music: roiling, deeply felt renditions of material from Bernstein, Gershwin, Wagner, Purcell, Nina Simone and Billie Holiday. But the highlights are from unexpected sources: a surprising take on a Whitney Houston classic and a call-centre-themed curio. Black stands alongside numerous shows at this year’s Fringe in looking seriously at the experience of mental illness, and it finds inventive and expressive ways of conveying that. Somewhat oddly, though, we leave feeling we know Gateau Chocolat’s story better than we know him: he remains at a remove throughout, distanced by songs or skits or a screen. Yet to watch him sing is to witness a person who has found their place of self-fulfilment.
Assembly Hall (Venue 35), until 30 August, 4:50pm.
Published in The Scotsman on 24 August 2015
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