Fade to Black

Le Gateau Chocolat talks mental health, travel and more.

Life is never quiet for Le Gateau Chocolat, and his success in recent years and rich body of work are a testament to the talents he possesses. Included in that ever-growing list is his hit show Black which is being reprised in April. This week, Jason Reid chats to Le Gateau about Black, mental health, and non-stop travelling…

Congrats on the success of Black. Tell us a bit about the show.

I’ve always been ‘black’ – even growing up in Nigeria. That may seem weird but for me, the word comes to mean being the outsider and I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t. The show explores other memes of black; black dog, black and blue, black music, black sheep. It was of the utmost importance that the show explored the idea that at some point in our lives, regardless of your colour, religion or sexuality, you’ve been ‘black’.


How has the show changed since I saw it back in 2014?

The show always showcased orchestral and operatic ambitions so the biggest change is this current tour being delivered with the Psappha Ensemble, who are an orchestral collective of world class musicians. I first heard of them on an opera called Pleasure which played Opera North and the Royal Opera House and now, they’re playing my little show. I’m so thrilled about that.

What ignited the fire in you to write a show about mental health and your experiences with it?  

There’s an inherent shame and taboo linked to conversations around depression. Making this piece forced me to engage with a painful reality that I had denied; I too suffered severely from it. A terrifying prospect was two friends committing suicide. If ever there was motivation to finally engage with it, that was it. This show was their eulogy.

When you were in the grips of your depression did you feel shame?

Yes. Shame linked to the idea of masculinity; men can’t be depressed or sad as it’s a sign of weakness. Shame linked to the concept of relativity; how can you be depressed when there are people with less than you. Shame linked to one’s perceived success; how can you be depressed when you’re doing so well and have so much going for you?

Over the years many have posed the theory that artists and performers tend to suffer with mental health at a higher ratio than others. Do you believe in the ‘tears of a clown’ thinking?

I use a light as a metaphor to best explain this. We’re all born with an average of 50 watt bulbs; the norm. When one is depressed your wattage ranges from 20-30. If you perform, you’re forced into artificial wattage ranging from 70-100 watts. If you perform and you’re a depressive, you have to return to your already deficient setting of 20-30 but your experience of the somewhat unnatural brightness makes your already low wattage seem like darkness.

Yet it’s worth suffering?

It’s a doubled edged sword as performing has often saved my life or provided me with a reason to activate or, as is the case with Black, encouraged me to actually engage with depression. It however, also exacerbates the condition.

As Gateau, my foray into the performance platform was born in clowning. An art I perfected as a child: drag – the ability to misdirect and distract from my sexuality and my size. The only difference was, as an adult, I accentuated the clowning with lycra, sequins and make up. After years of clowning, the desire to be real and showcase the person behind the mask; flaws, tears, joy, heartbreak, success and all, became unavoidable.

You’re forever jetting around the globe; what’s been your highlight of the past year?

There have been several: touring Australia with Jonny Woo and a Night at the Musicals; meeting a 9 year old boy who loved the show; returning to Black but with the orchestra; landing a Chekhov job at The Young Vic; The Bear and The Proposal, being cast as Feste in Emma Rice’s final production at The Globe; Twelfth Night, coming back home from Australia to my baby nieces and sister – and it’s just March!

• Le Gateau Chocolat’s Black is at the Theatre Royal, Stratford East from 4th-8th April.