At a point quite early in his show, glitter-coated baritone Le Gateau Chocolat expresses a reluctance to be “defined or confined by size, colour or sexuality”. It’s a bold statement for a professional drag artist to make, and in a piece that is part cabaret, part Gender Studies seminar, the performer explores a medium that both frees and limits him.
With the largest prop being a giant dressing room mirror, this piece is overtly powered by the theme of self reflection. The production is also inspired by external perceptions and prejudices, and Le Gateau Chocolat’s first costume change sees him put on a lycra jumpsuit decorated with question marks, a pattern that is, fittingly, “a projection of all the questions you have right now”. Throughout the show, Le Gateau Chocolat attempts to address and deconstruct prejudice directed towards him in a commentary interspersed with song. This is a very different experience to karaoke with a gay bar drag queen as a rich baritone, crisp with a delicious degree of emotion, emerges from behind a screen of primary coloured makeup.
With lips as red and sparkly as Dorothy’s shoes, Le Gateau Chocolat utters the words, “It’s incredible to be home”. Initially, this familiarity is part of the problem. In front of an audience largely unfazed by the sight of a large Nigerian man in lycra, Le Gateau Chocolat commands an acceptance that deflates the emotional potential of his piece, especially when covers of songs like Don’t Rain on My Parade and Creep seem to hinge on negative judgements that nobody seems to be exhibiting. Now accepted, there’s little left for Le Gateau Chocolat to fight, and his chocolate-flavoured show leaves a bitter taste when you consider that a man of such bright talent can only win over an audience by acknowledging his own failure.
The performance is marked with contradiction and, in a show where individuality is valued above anything else, Britain’s Got Talent becomes an obvious target. Drawing on examples of job interviews and dates, Le Gateau Chocolat argues that drag is a part of everybody’s life. With this in mind, it seems like a strange move on the artist’s part to mock Susan Boyle, a performer not too far away from Le Gateau Chocolat’s definition of a drag artist. The mainstream is loud, brash and is designed to be ridiculed; this more intimate performance is voluminous, bold and demanding of our understanding. It’s a clever, yet somewhat hypocritical distinction, but Le Gateau Chocolat handles the potential contradiction with delicacy, sweeping the audience up into his extravagant world of glitter and insecurity.
In his discussion of the private self, Le Gateau Chocolat trusts us with a vulnerability that generates a shield for him to employ in his more showy moments. This distinction between public and private personalities is important throughout the piece and is vividly illustrated by a dressing rack that splits the performance space. On stage right, a quartet plays next to an extroverted performer who is aware of his own great talent; on the other side, wigs and lipsticks surround a doubting man full of secrets and ambition. Here, drag is shown to be an important vehicle for delivering a true, guiltless identity. Sadly, though, this drawn-out performance doesn’t give us enough of either persona to completely satisfy, and when drag becomes a commentary of what the medium should or shouldn’t be, it loses its ability to accomplish what it could be.
Le Gateau Chocolat is playing at Menier Chocolate Factory until 26 August. For more information and tickets, see the Menier Chocolate Factory website.