The sensational Le Gateau Chocolat is back with his show, Black, at the Theatre Royal Stratford East for four nights in April. Featuring a 13-piece orchestra and music ranging from Whitney Houston to Purcell, this acclaimed show is an exploration of his hopes, fears and battles with depression. Dave Cross talks to Le Gateau about his inspirations for this inventive and beautiful show.
Hello Gateau, how would you describe Black?
The show deals with aspects of my life, being black and mainly focuses on mental health and depression.
When you started working on the show was your prime motivation about sharing those experiences?
Yes, indeed. I had some friends who I lost to suicide caused by depression, so I was motivated by that, but also my own experiences dealing with mental health.
Has doing the show helped you deal with these things as well as helping others?
It has helped me, for sure. I think there’s so much denial about mental illness that it’s difficult to engage with the subject, especially for men because it’s somehow seen as a threat to their masculinity. There’s pressure for men to be seen as strong regardless of what you are experiencing. Plus as a performer, people often don’t view you as human in the way you are; they don’t expect a drag performer or a clown – and I do see myself as a clown – to be having the same issues as them.
So the subject can be uncomfortable?
Yes, and I think that’s important in art, but I also think that it can comfort the discomfited. People can be entertained and can laugh and go away feeling positive even though the subject is difficult, and that’s what I aim to do. I want them to enjoy the show, the music, the 13-piece orchestra, and take away something to make them think as well. My work has always been about commonality and underlining how much we share rather than what makes us different. Yes, I’m black and gay and a performer, but underneath all that I’m human and that’s the message of the show.
You’ve always had a wide range of songs in your shows – what is it that attracts you to a particular song or artist and how do you choose what goes in a show?
For this show, when I was first planning it, I made a list of all the songs that really meant something to me in some way. They all represent key moments in my life and sometimes they may seem an incongruous mix, going from Purcell to Whitney to Nina Simone, but they have all struck a chord with me. Sometimes they represent happy times and others not, but that’s the link for this show. Generally I don’t cut myself off from any genre of music; I’m drawn to songs that tell stories.
You recently appeared in a production of The Threepenny Opera. You’re used to having free range in your own shows – how was working within the discipline of a show like that?
The Threepenny Opera was so exciting and it really did push me out of my comfort zones. I think it’s very important that I keep challenging myself and pushing the limits of what I do. I see these different things as having a symbiotic relationship; the things I love about performing cabaret I try to bring to my opera performances and the discipline I need for opera I try to bring to cabaret. I try to approach every performance with the same dedication and spirit, whether it’s performing at Glyndebourne or at a club.
You’ve worked with lots of different people, from Basement Jaxx to singing for the Queen – who else would you love to work with?
Oh the performance with Basement Jaxx was just ridiculous, the craziest thing ever and I loved it. Honestly I don’t know. I love collaborating with people and I’ve been so lucky to do so many different things. I was even on Emmerdale and I hope I can keep on working with as many different people as possible.