Le Gateau Chocolat: Black
By Caro Moses | Published on Wednesday 29 March 2017
If you’re a regular Three To See reader, you probably know that we are big fans of Le Gateau Chocolat, because we are always talking about him and his wonderful shows. And we’re pleased to see that he’ll be performing one of them at Theatre Royal Stratford East this week.
He has a busy, busy time, what with his solo efforts, and his work in contemporary opera, but we managed to squeeze in a quick chat, to find out more about ‘Black’, and what we can expect from him in the future.
CM: Can you start by telling us what to expect from the show? What is it about?
LGC: The show is about being “black”: being different or other, facing stigmas, dealing with depression. It’s underlines how we can all feel ‘black’ at one time or another, regardless of who we are and how we identify. The story itself is autobiographical and told through songs from a range of genres.
CM: You perform it with the thirteen piece Psappha ensemble. Can you tell us a bit about them, too?
LGC: Psappha are a collective of incredible musicians based in the North West of England. I first came across their work two years ago when they collaborated on ‘Pleasure’, a new opera by Mark Simpson. It’s wonderful to perform Black with such a rich sound onstage beside me.
CM: What inspired you to create a show so focused on your own life?
LGC: In a world that reminds us that we’re different, my work has been mainly to underline our commonality; to offer up the human beneath the spectacle. Yes, the obvious and visual differences – my colour, my size, my gender and to some, my sexuality; but underneath all of that, is a hopefully shared experience of humanity and compassion. So whilst preserving my reality and truth, I tread the balance of showcasing my life whilst living the gap for people to insert themselves. For ‘Black’, I found myself needing to speak up about my experience of depression; I lost two friends to suicide and realized how high the stakes can be when we don’t share the uncomfortable sides to ourselves.
CM: How did you go about creating a show? What was the process?
LGC: I knew the story that I wanted to tell and had great support from director Ed Burnside for the structure. Music was always going to be the key to the piece. I thought a lot about different styles I wanted to bring in, from opera and cabaret, and about songs that had resonated with me at specific times in my life, bad and good.
CM: Was it a painful process, to create this, or a cathartic one?
LGC: It felt important to be making it, and good to finally speak publicly about my experience. I’ve had a lot of great conversations with people, audiences and other artists, who have similar struggles. I would say it has been cathartic, but it also demands that I spend a lot of time thinking about those dark places, and it can make me more vulnerable to them.
CM: Do you think sharing such an intimate story of mental health and depression can help people who are also affected by these issues?
LGC: The most dangerous thing about mental health is when it is taboo, when people don’t feel able to open up about their experiences, and end up dealing with them alone. ‘Black’ tries to break down those barriers. Though vehicled by drag, it’s ironically without artifice, to don a mask only to reveal the person behind it. The statistics are that 1 in 3 people suffer from depression, so on any given night at Theatre Royal Stratford East there could be over 100 people who suffer from some form of it, and I hope this show helps them talk about, deal or engage with or understand it better.
CM: Do you think art could be instrumental in helping to create a wider public understanding of mental health issues?
LGC: “Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable” ― Cesar A. Cruz
Art gives us ways to articulate and share our individual experiences and find common ground. Mental health is such a personal issue and can feel incredibly isolating, so I think seeing your experience reflected back at you, in a performance, in the person of the performer, can be very powerful.
CM: The last time we spoke was when you were performing at the 2011 Edinburgh Fringe, and I can’t believe it’s such a long time ago! Can you fill us in a bit on what you have been up to in the intervening time?
LGC: It’s certainly been a packed few years. As well as ‘Black’, I’ve also developed another new show, ‘Icons’, and a children’s show, ‘Duckie’, which ran at the Southbank last Christmas. It’s a reworking of the Ugly Duckling story for the family. ‘Anxiety Opera’ for Jocelyn Pook at Wigmore Hall, ‘Porgy and Bess’ at Regent’s Park Open air theatre, ‘The Threepenny Opera’ at the National last year, a cameo in ‘Emmerdale’ (ridiculous), an award winning tour of Australia with Jonny Woo of our show ‘A Night at the Musicals’, became an uncle – twice… It’s been crazy busy and wonderfully so.
CM: What ambitions do you have for the future? Where do you see yourself a decade from now?
LGC: Keeping Going. Having studied law, there’s been no road map to getting here, and that has been thrilling if, at times, scary. But the challenge has forced me to grow as an artist. In full embrace of the unknown; keep making new works, collaborating with new people; theatrical practitioners, composers, dancers, directors… Maybe a full new opera? Anything and everything. In the words of Dory (Finding Nemo) “Just keep swimming”.
CM: What’s coming up more imminently? Do you have any new projects in the pipeline?
LGC: ‘Black’ will debut in Australia in June which i’m very excited about. First though, having just finished Chekhov at the Young Vic, my sights are firmly trained on tackling my first Shakespeare; ‘Twelfth Night’, at the Globe. After which I’ll return to Australia for a rarely performed Tom Waits opera ‘Black Rider’. Then I’m hoping to tour ‘Duckie’, and also ‘Icons’…. and then it’s 2018!! Christ, it sure does runaway if you don’t pay attention.
Le Gateau Chocolat performs ‘Black’ at Theatre Royal Stratford East from 4-8 Apr. See the venue website here for more information and to book.
photo: Mark Vessey