Review: The Bitten Peach
By Jay Darcy
The recently reopened Contact Theatre wrapped up its Queer Contact season with The Bitten Peach – the UK’s only Pan-Asian cabaret collective. There’s something so powerful about seeing queer Asian (South and East) put on a cabaret. Queer Asians are an intersection (and a sidelined subgroup) of two much larger groups: Asians and the LGBT+ community. Indeed, not only do queer Asians face homophobia from Asians but also racism from the LGBT+ community. The racism is not necessarily overt, but some might argue that covert, “liberal” racism is far more insidious. The racism can be seen in the lack of Asian performers in cabarets. The Bitten Peach is made up of dozens of queer Asian performers, so why are very few of them seen in “mainstream” cabarets?
The Bitten Peach, then, gives a voice to a forgotten community. It exposes the racism of the cabaret scene, for the lack of Asian performers in “mainstream” cabarets is, quite clearly, not because of a limited talent pool, for the performers seen in The Bitten Peach are all remarkable. Rather, these performers are being ignored in favour of White performers. Thus, The Bitten Peach is an act of resistance. A proclamation, if you will: We’re here, we’re queer, we’re Asian, we’re gaysian, and if you’re going to ignore us, we’ll make our own show.
The cabaret opened with a voiceover explaining the origin of the phrase, “the bitten peach”: it’s a byword for homosexuality, taken from the story of the semi-legendary Chinese figure, Mizi Xia. The voiceover had me thinking that the cabaret was going to have a linear story, but this was not the case. Following the prerecorded voiceover, the show’s emcee/compère (who was seemingly backstage) introduced the four performers: Tequila Thirst, Judas Darkholme, Lady Bushra, and Eva Serration. She then allowed a photo opportunity, which was a nice touch.
Once the performers walked offstage, the bag that the stage manager (drag king Mark Anthony) had brought onstage began moving. Soon enough, the cabaret’s host – Lilly SnatchDragon – ripped herself out of it, pretending to be a Thai immigrant who smuggled herself into Europe. She expressed great disappointment that she ended up in England, not continental Europe, to laughter from the (presumably pro-EU) audience.
Lily’s opening piece was a cross between a monologue and a burlesque strip-tease. The skit was, essentially, a hilarious reclamation of racist narratives and a subversion of shallow stereotypes (e.g. Thai masseurs offering “happy endings”). It was cathartic seeing a curvacious Asian woman whip it all out. I must also add that Lily’s drag was so good that before she revealed her breasts, I had wondered if she was actually a man who was capable of doing an incredible female impression!
I don’t want to give too much away, so not to spoil the incredible performances offered by the cast. They were all tremendously talented, and so different to one another. Sure, they’re all queer Asian cabaret performers, but their styles of cabaret differ wildly.
I must give a shoutout to Judas, a late addition to the show. A few of us in the audience – current and former University of Manchester students – recognised Judas from university. I actually did the first year of my MA (Gender, Sexuality and Culture) with them, but it was all virtual. How iconic that our first real-life meeting was me seeing them in drag? Even better – me seeing them in drag without knowing I was going to be seeing them at all!
It’s hard to believe that Judas, who uses poetry in their performances, has only been doing drag for a year. Lily, herself – one of the leaders of The Bitten Peach – said that they are going to go very far in this business. As someone who studied alongside them, I know they’re going to go very far in life, period.
It was nice to chat to Lily, Judas and Tequila after the show. When Lily found out I was reviewing the show, she jokingly offered me a pound. Even out of character, she was so funny; it just comes naturally to her. I told her how incredible it was seeing gay Asian – or “gaysian” – performers onstage. “Gaysian slaysian,” she added. Indeed, Lilly SnatchDragon is dragon and slayer in one.
The Bitten Peach is continuing to grow. The day after we saw their show, they released a documentary (Peach Paradise) on Netflix’s YouTube channel (Still Watching Netflix), which was developed and created as part of The Netflix Documentary Talent Fund. Head to their website and Linktree to find out more.