As I watched Nigerian drag performer Le Gateau Chocolat apply his makeup and wig on stage and allow the audience a glimpse at the illusion, I knew that I was in the presence of a fearless artist. “Black” is not only a reference to the Lagos born artist’s skin colour, but his life long battle with the “black dog” that is depression, a battle that he is winning, but that never ends.
The autobiographical journey of Little Black the child to Black the man is told through song, recordings and even animation. It begins with LGC’s childhood dreams of being an opera diva singing Wagner, being marginalised by a group of taunting cruel boys at the local pool (Billie Holiday’s Strange Fruit) and then crushed by a violent father and a schoolboy bully who becomes his abusive partner (a searingly ironic version of Gershwin’s My Man’s Gone Now).
Escaping Lagos for the United Kingdom, LGC obtains a law degree as his father always wanted and realises that he can sing (Black is the Colour of My True Love’s Hair) only to sink into depression, thoughts of self-harm and ending it all (Dido’s Lament).
It’s not all gloomy however. The song NHS Direct is a hilarious flashback to the artist’s stint answering inane phone calls from hypochondriacs. The show’s pinnacle was LGC’s mime to the late Whitney Houston’s I Want to Dance with Somebody juxtaposed with the artist’s own interpretation, a melancholy cry for love and acceptance.
Musically, LGC has a fine baritone voice that befits his operatic background, even if the depths of the bass required in Strange Fruit and the Gershwin proved challenging. The show was dedicated to two of LGC’s close friends who had ended their lives in the last five years. However, it ended optimistically as the artist chose the light (Make Our Garden Grown from Candide). The themes may have been dark, but the show dazzled and the audience appreciated the insight into what it means to grow up “gay, black and fat”.
Le Gateau Chocolat’s Black is at the Adelaide Festival Centre as part of the Adelaide Cabaret Festival until June 23.