BY JEAN WEST
[star rating = 3/5]
This sweet show for kids is something of a departure for the epic Fringe talent that is Le Gateau Chocolat.
Hans Christian Andersen’s tale of the Ugly Duckling, was an obvious fable for the trained lawyer and drag artist, who knew he was gay from a young age but had to stay silent.
For all his cabaret bluster, Le Gateau, is a sensitive soul and much like his feathery character felt like he never fitted in. He has experienced bullying in its various guises and, battling with his weight, and being from a different culture, autopiloted on self-doubt and depression for many years.
In some ways his story runs parallel to the Danish author’s, who claimed his phenomenally successful book was autobiographical – ‘a reflection of my own life.’ The writer, who felt he was gawky with big feet and a big nose, was ribbed mercilessly at school, and even when he escaped this torment for a life on the stage as a singer, continued to suffer attack.
Le Gateau’s voice, however, became his salvation and he employs its epic range throughout the show to serenade away the duckling’s sorrow and relate his escapades as he tries to mimic animals at a circus.
The story opens with Le Gateau wheeling an old trolley of his belongings as a down and out onto the stage, before discovering a dusty book with illuminated pages. Soon he is Duckie, a bird with stubby little wings, who can’t even quack but is always up for trying – instead he burps… and burps… and burps… the kids roar with approval.
The actor moves forward cautiously with the character of the little misfit, whose gauche bluster to be something except himself is driven by the poisonous voices in his head, proclaiming him all shades of ugly.
We watch him aping the sealions, lions, peacocks and flamingo, using nicely understated props, the improvised flamingo represented by a pink umbrella fastened to his hat, the lion, seemingly an inverted tutu, and snippets of dance.
Whimsical magic come from a playfulness you sense the performer has honed in his own life, and his strong but silken voice, which is an otherworldly gift, gives lustre to his musical storytelling.
He sings in all manner of styles, some as vital as Elton John’s in Disney’s the Lion King, others camp and fun, like the Pussycat Dolls. He even croons Madonna for his fidgety audience, who will perhaps be his fiercest and most honest critics.
Parents engage with the show and some of the kids are mesmerised, but the younger ones at times are a little lost by the demands on their imagination of the off-scene storytelling from an Enid-Blyton style voice-over narrator.
There are genuinely tender moments in the show, like when Duckie takes an enchanting globe of light through their midst and speaks to them more closely.
Nonetheless, a quietly lit, sparse set, with little more than a string of circus lights and a dressing up box show us that Le Gateau is not afraid of his shadow and the dark.
This is a tiny stage that doesn’t quite seem to allow the actor, with all his flamboyant appeal, to fully express. But for all this, it is a likeable show, and hopefully critical feedback will set it even more aglow.
Le Gateau shows wonderful vulnerability as Duckie. He himself joined a circus troupe when he knew for sure that he didn’t want to practice law, and later found himself hosting a drag night in Brighton. His confidence has been slowly but assuredly won.
I have seen him strutting his drag queen persona across Edinburgh stages with unfettered flamboyance, in exquisitely loud costume, like a finely plumed song bird or a swan, by some reckoning, indeed! But the actor is at odds to convey that swandom is an unrealistic quest and undue pressure – the best versions of ourselves are good enough!
In 40 minutes of loveliness, he plays true to Hans Christian Andersen’s maxim, translated by Gloria Gaynor and his own voice that: “Life’s not worth a damn, ‘til you can shout out, ‘I am what I am.’”
Go see and feel the love.