I’m not going to tell you Le Gateau Chocolat’s I ♥ Chocolat Isn’t Just A Drag Act. Because it is just a drag act. Honestly, I’d much rather have seen this show not in a theatre. I think we needed cocktails and better clothes and disco balls or something. There was something about being confined to seats that felt plain wrong watching Le Gateau Chocolat do his thing. Which isn’t to say that the night wasn’t fantastic – cause it was. But the fact that we saw it in a theatre churned up all the silt and muddied some water.
Putting aside my concerns for what and why constitutes theatre, I want to stress that this was a cracking piece of performance. And Chocolat is fucking gorgeous – he repeatedly describes himself as ‘Rubenesque’ and owns the stage in all his rippling, contoured, machiaged beauty. Chocolat brings his charisma, uniqueness, nerve and talent and takes to the stage like an earthquake in a chocolate box. And – shit – let’s not forget the Chocolat band, two thirds of whom Chocolat met that morning. They were sharp as owt, keeping up with Chocolat’s ad libs and ventures out into the audience to dispense chocolates.
I feel like I’m writing more about a gig than a theatre piece. I flat-out defy anyone to call this a ‘theatre piece’ anyway – that’s a bit too arrogant a term for what this was. And it’d be too much irony for me to insist on bracketing a queer performance into one genre or another. Then again, we’re in a theatre, we’re an audience, why not call it theatre? But then why not call it a gig? Why not call it a strip-tease? Why not call it a religious experience? I mean, I’m not certain how much of an epiphany of an evening this was, but there was the potential for it to be a big one.
Gender’s a daft old thing, isn’t it? ‘Hey guys, let’s all wear a specific type of clothes and not deviate from that, no matter how uncomfortable we feel in them.’ And obviously seeing a drag show or engaging with queer performance or discourse involves exposing how arbitrary these rules are. But also putting a drag show on in the straight-laced each-to-their-own-seat proscenium arch setting of a theatre exposes all the arbitrary rules we have there too. Cause Theatre’s a daft old thing too. Chocolat comes clambering in from the back of the seating, distributing Malteasers, as if shouting ‘LOOK AT YOU ALL! WHY ARE YOU ALL SO STILL AND QUIET? WHAT IS THIS PLACE? WHERE IS THE JOY?’ Let’s face it, sitting in rows in the dark and silence is a pretty joyless concept.
BUT don’t worry – Chocolat brings you joy, and music, and sorrow, and bright colours, and the knowledge that the man performing for you has a law degree and Nigerian parents with grand designs. But fuck all that cause here he is in a succession of dresses, with a fantastic voice and enough stage presence not to need a stage. And One More Thing (and my favourite thing): Chocolat had travelled from Hove to Manchester, on a grand total of zero hours of sleep, teched the show, and then performed. And he told us this, during the show, and it was brilliant and honest and everyone was on his side AND it didn’t even matter because he was excellent regardless.
And I think I’ve decided that no, this wasn’t theatre – because we weren’t once pretending. Chocolat stripped off all those arbitrary conventions and it was just unashamedly a bloody good night out with a fantastic performer, and a few chocolates to boot. Chocolat took the confrontational energy of drag and totally activated the space, exploded it even, gave the theatre a good queering, and I’m bloody glad I was there to witness.