The brightly-coloured tutus lining the entrance and the large amount of spandex waiting on the stage give you a good idea of what to expect. Le Gateau Chocolat has sold out venues from Adelaide to Edinburgh, though perhaps none so suitably named as the home of his current London residency.
From the moment he slinks on-stage, all glittery eyelashes, curled wig and bright lipstick, and dramatically discards his robe, proclaiming: “Yes, I know. You’re wondering where is my penis?”, he keeps the audience enthralled. Because, of course, he’s right. We are wondering where it is. (It turns out there’s some magic M&S spandex involved). Gateau has a gift for impeccably timed one-liners. He knows exactly how to charm a crowd. But what really matters is his refreshing honesty. It sets the tone for the rest of the evening as he candidly tells us his unlikely story: a Nigerian-born Londoner, and self-confessed gender-bending “assholic”, who came to cabaret via law school and countless battles with his inner demons.
But on stage, he displays a persona that goes beyond his size, colour and sexuality. And just as Gateau readily switches between his off-stage and on-stage personas, so a costume rail lined with drag outfits symbolically ‘splits’ the stage space in two. But ultimately, Gateau teaches us these personas are one and the same. After all, for Gateau, a larger-than-life man with a baritone voice as silky and rich as a Hummingbird cupcake, drag isn’t simply about slipping into some sequins and draping oneself in another persona as though it were feather boa. Oh no. Instead, Gateau spends the evening persuading us that drag is actually just a normal part everyday life. It’s about always performing as your very best, polished self. Putting on your game face; as Gateau puts it, it’s about being a drag terrorist.
In this manner, Gateau romps through various costume changes (his wardrobe is unparalleled), his performance incorporating raw moments of intimacy, touching anecdotes, and a large dash of humour. At one point, he stands there in a green Lycra onesie covered in large question marks, begging us to ask not ‘why?’ but rather ‘why not?’ Why not prance about in green Lycra? Why not?
But as dazzling as this is, it is his operatic baritone that really impresses. Gateau’s voice is velvety and fabulously versatile. It can caress a Radiohead number as gently as it can a Puccini. And his repertoire is astonishing. There’s the number where he stands, clad in a glittering caped dress in a hilarious imitation of Susan Boyle, and then belts out ‘I Dreamed a Dream’ as if it were his own. Then there’s the moment where he clambers into the audience, hauls them to their feet, and revs the evening up a notch with Madonna’s ‘Holiday’. Later, and just as suddenly, he sits ‘backstage’ in front of the mirror and gives a moving rendition of ‘Old Man River’. The song changes are as hectic and eclectic, confusing and bemusing, as his costume changes, but somehow he pulls it off with considerable charm and charisma. And his three-piece orchestra does a superb job of keeping pace; at one point, even they are clad in full-length Lycra. Gateau’s fetish, it seems, is utterly infectious.