Le Gateau Chocolat performs at the GQ 30th anniversary party at SUSHISAMBA Covent Garden on 29 October 2018 in London, England. (Photo by David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images)
Drag and theatre icon Le Gateau Chocolat shares the challenges and “magic” of the last year.
Bearded, bewigged and standing at six-and-half feet, Le Gateau Chocolat is instantly recognisable. Although he’s based in Brighton, his real home is on the stage, be it the Royal Albert Hall, the Edinburgh Fringe or the Sydney Opera House, all venues that have witnessed his thrilling, award-winning brand of drag, opera, cabaret and theatre.
A recent performance of his show Liminal at the Brighton Festival was described as “stunning to witness”, by GScene, which added that his “performance style pretty much defies definition”, and his talent “is not limited by any kind of culture barrier”.
It was a stunning return to the stage after a year defined for Le Gateau, in part, by its absence.
Le Gateau told PinkNews it has been “hard to navigate” the limitations of the pandemic because the stage is where they had carved out an area to explore issues that are important to them, including acceptance, otherness, race, gender, size and sexuality.
Instead, they were forced online, a place which became a “deeply polarised landscape” awash with racism and other bigotry.
“So anyone in the virtual sphere that held any of those things – and in my case, several of these things because, hey, intersectionality – becomes a target,” Le Gateau said. “That has just been incessant.”
They’ve been “actively sharing” some of the attacks they received online so that “people could humanise these ideas”.
What is “materialising”, he realises, is that, “regardless of the content… cis, straight and mostly white men [find] my presence triggering.
Even his “quiet presence”, just sitting on a train and reading or listening to music, is “so provocative to people” that some feel compelled to act.
“My presence is so active that it provokes someone to cross the road or come over and say ‘you f**king f*****t’, and it’s so interesting how that is manifesting online.”
Despite the at-times overwhelming negativity found on social media and the like, Le Gateau has enjoyed witnessing the vast amounts of creativity online that has come about because of the pandemic.
One day, he stumbled upon a heartwarming video of a woman who put on a “full-on routine” to the musical Greece in her “tiny, tiny bedroom”.
He found himself weeping, in awe of the promise such talent held for the future of the theatre and entertainment industry.
“You’ve moved everything out of the way in your tiny bedroom, and you’ve made up this f**king full-out routine, and you’ve done it with such chutzpah and such oomph,” Le Gateau said.
“In you, I see the reason why we [theatre] could not just bounce back, but we can thrive again.”
They’ve also found comfort in hobbies that “make our brains reconnect with creativity”, such as “finding different ways of sewing” and amassing a wonderful collection of plants.
One of the other ways in which Le Gateau worked their creative muscle was with a starring role in a queer pirate podcast musical, The Ballad of Anne & Mary.
The story takes place in the 1700s when notorious lesbian pirates Anne Bonny and Mary Read are jailed in London. A journalist tries to write a sensational history of the pirates as tall tales of the duo start to spread across London and is eventually confronted by the women themselves.
Le Gateau plays Captain “Calico” Jack Rackham, who works alongside Anne and the rest of the crew. Musical sensation Christina Bianco, actress and comedian Sooz Kempner and Hamilton star Karl Queensborough also star.
Le Gateau told PinkNews that the podcast was another example of the resilience and creativity of the entertainment and theatre communities.
They explained that they were initially intrigued by the premise of the podcast – not just because it’s about queer pirates – but because it showcased what creators can do “from scratch in lockdown”.
“There are things that won’t come back [because of COVID-19] but even in that, you have found enough space as partners to not only navigate all the stuff that we’re all navigating but you’ve written a f**king podcast musical from scratch,” Le Gateau said.
He continued: “So when somebody makes a decision to choose racism or bigotry online, some of us are going: ‘I read this book. I think that we could turn it into a musical.’
“I found that really magic. I found so much inspiration and comfort in it that we are going to make our industry survive.”