By Jay Darcy
When you go to see a drag show or a cabaret, you’ll usually find a sea of white faces and one token Black or brown performer. One might play devil’s advocate and ask if there is a shortage of Black and brown cabaret performers, perhaps because conservative attitudes to gender and sexuality in a lot of minority communities keep many people in the closet, let alone from becoming cabaret performers. But The Bitten Peach, a queer Asian cabaret collective, proves otherwise.
The Bitten Peach was established to spotlight Asian performers, who are often sidelined in the mainstream cabaret community. The collective has amassed dozens of performers. Clearly, there is no limited talent pool of Asian performers; they’re just not getting the same opportunities as white performers.
Thus, the existence of The Bitten Peach is bittersweet. It’s amazing to see a collective exclusively for Asian performers; a collective which celebrates being both queer and Asian. Even better, the collective is thriving, against all odds. There has long been a view in Hollywood that “Black films don’t sell”, but the likes of Get Out and Black Panther (and Asian-led films such as Crazy Rich Asians and Korean film Parasite) reveal that that is not at all true. That narrow, racist view permeates other artistic industries, including cabaret.
The Bitten Peach‘s success, and the sudden success of star performers such as South Asian drag queen Lady Bushra, reveal that there is an appetite for Asian cabaret – not just from audiences of colour but White audiences too.
Whilst The Bitten Peach welcomes performers from across the Asian diaspora, Peach Chutney is the exclusively South Asian branch of the collective. I caught The Bitten Peach at Contact Theatre last February (as part of Queer Contact, which takes place during LGBTQ+ History Month); the line-up featured four East Asian performers and the aforementioned Lady Bushra. Thus, it was great to see more of the collective’s South Asian performers for their sophomore Contact performance.
Peach Chutney was hosted by drag queen Mahatma Khandi, one of the central figures at The Bitten Peach (with one of the best drag names ever). The show began with an introduction to all of the performers. The cast was made up of bearded drag queen Mama Dosa (another key figure at The Bitten Peach), drag dancer Bindiya, and burlesque dancer Sarjana, alongside new additions to The Bitten Peach, drag king Laurence Kashmere and Manchester’s own drag queen Val Qaeda (what a name!).
Whilst the show allowed each performer to have a solo performance, there was a theme, a thread that connected each performance: we were aboard an aircraft. The first act was Mama Dosa, who delivered an intentionally awkward, undeniably hilarious in-flight safety demonstration.
Next up was Sarjana, whose performance began as a beautiful, traditional Indian dance, but we soon realised that it was a sultry, South Asian striptease. It was empowering and cathartic seeing a South Asian woman owning and celebrating her sexuality. After the show, she told me that, back in her home country, she was often told to cover up and dress conservatively – so I guess stripping is an act of rebellion and agency.
The final solo performance of the first act came from Val Qaeda, a friend of mine. Val performed at another Queer Contact event, the return of The Cocoa Butter Club, the other day. I caught videos of the performance; it looked hilarious. To my delight, she blessed us with the same performance, which included what has become her signature routine: an hilarious lip sync and dance to Punjabi MC’s ‘Mundian To Bach Ke’ (the one Indian song all you White people know).
The lip sync began with her refusing to dance to the song, even flipping the bird at the audience, but once the beat kicked in, she began doing the lightbulb dance. There’s different interpretations to this politically charged performance. Is the dance infectious? Or is it more a sociopolitical commentary on Asian performers having to be a certain way to appease White audiences? Val’s hilarious, subversive lip sync flipped that on its head.
The act ended with a group dance to Steps‘ ‘Deeper Shade of Blue’, with “Blue” swapped with a voiceover saying “Brown”. That’s a trick often employed by the aforementioned Lady Bushra who often replaces words and names with her own name, “Bushra”.
The second act was opened by Bindiya, who had made several small appearances in the first act. Her performance, like Sarjana’s, began as a traditional Indian dance, but then the music changed to the opening of Pussycat Doll’s ‘Buttons’, which is, in fact, an Indian instrumental. The lyric kicked in – “I’m telling you to” – before the track was morphed into KiDi and Tyga’s ‘Touch It’ – “shut up and bend over”. Bindiya then offered an hilarious recreation of the iconic “Pooja, what is this behaviour?” from Bigg Boss, with the audience shouting along. Bindiya remixed the final line, “get off my back”, with Khia’s ‘My Neck, My Back’: “Get off – my neck, my back, lick my…” (you know the rest).
Bindiya really went from Bollywood diva to Pussycat Doll to dutty gyal to fricken Pooja!
The penultimate solo performance came from Mahatma herself; she recreated the music video for Vanessa Carlton’s ‘A Thousand Miles’, without the moving piano but with the addition of fake page flicks and hair flicks!
The final solo performance came from Laurence Kashmere. It began as a lip sync to the Petshop Boys’ ‘Go West’ before Laurence sang her own lyrics. Rather than West, she went East! The politically charged performance included the line, “The Tories are coming for me – how can I be who I want to be? Trans rights under attack but it’s okay: we’ve got Rishi Sunak” – a dig at the worst British South Asian representation we have right now…
The penultimate group performance allowed all six performers to have another moment. Bindiya’s tribute to Priyanka Chopra’s ‘Exotic’ was thrilling. The final group performance saw the cohort dance along to an Indian bop, complete with colourful confetti. They went out with a bang!
Queer Contact runs at Contact until February 18. Lady Bushra, who starred in The Bitten Peach at Queer Contact last year, will star in a one-woman show: Robbed. There will also be a watch party for Dzifa, a short film directed by Savannah Acquah, with Queer Black artists asked to respond to a variety of the film’s themes.
Be sure to keep up to date with The Bitten Peach; they have got some exciting shows coming up!
Powered By Spotlight Studios
0161 275 2930 University of Manchester’s Students’ Union, Oxford Rd, Manchester M13 9PR