Writer and Performer: Le Gateau Chocolat
Director: Flick Ferdinando
Co-Writer and Director: Tommy Bradson
Reviewer: Glen Pearce
Venue: New Wolsey Studio, Ipswich
Much like there are moments in history, such as the assassination of Kennedy, when people are said to recall where they are, so it is that occasionally in theatre you witness the birth of a show that is destined to become something that is talked about for years.
11am on a sunny Sunday morning in a small studio in Ipswich seems an unlikely theatrical history milestone. When the show features an opera singing, law school graduate, British-born Nigerian boy, more known for his cabaret act in drag, creating his first show for a family audience then the mix seems even more unlikely.
In Le Gateau Chocolat’s Duckie, a vivid re-imagining of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Ugly Duckling, however, we are witness to something truly remarkable. A reinvention of family theatre that achieves that hardest of tasks – producing a show that enthrals and engages a young audience, but one that could easily be consumed by a late night adult only theatre or cabaret audience.
As a down an out drags his belongs across the stage on a truck, resonant of Mother Courage and her cart, a storybook emerges from the pile, a trunk full of scavenged clothes opened and a circus-like festoon of bunting unfurled across the stage. From the offset we are hooked, and as a voice over begins to narrate the man transforms into Duckie, the misfit in the brood that can’t quack but belches instead. As haunting snippets of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake echoaround us, Duckie finds he also can’t ballet dance and sets out to find his own voice.
It’s a beautiful journey, with Le Gateau Chocolat fusing physical theatre with song to create a totally engrossing piece. His song choices are, as you would expect from a seasoned cabaret perfomer, eclectic, but they sit perfectly in this imaginative tale. Anyone that can fuse An American Tail’s Somewhere Out There with The Pussycat Dolls Don’tCha and Sweeney Todd’s haunting Nothing’s Gonna Harm you (sung to a finger puppet mouse) with such skill is clearly at the top of their game.
Le Gateau Chocolat’s singing voice soars across the studio, his skill in musical delivery evident as each number is infused with emotion and theatricality that drives the narrative forward. This is far more than a vocal showcase though, with perfect comic timing, movement and an endlessly expressive face its impossible not to be charmed. From small child to the most seasoned of adult theatre-goer – all are won over by the sheer magnetism of performance and the inventiveness of script and staging.
Behind the fun, the songs and the audience participation,however,there’s a much darker, and subtler story of race, identity, discrimination and belonging. While in younger members of the audience those elements may slightly pass them by, it is an encouraging introduction to the idea of inclusiveness for them. For older members of the audience though the message packs a real emotional punch as by the time we’re treated to a tear-inducing but uplifting I am What I Am from Le Cage Aux Folles, it is clear we’ve witnessed something very special indeed.
This is the UK Premiere of Duckie but it is assured a long future life. A highlight in an already acclaimed career for Le Gateau Chocolat but also a defining moment in the development of truly cross-generational theatre.
Reviewed on 29 May 2016 | Image: Contributed