Performance reviews: Smashed: The Nightcap, The Chosen Haram and Peter Cat Recording Co., Sydney Festival

A smorgasbord of cabaret, theatre and live music at the Sydney Festival.
Peter Cat Recording Co. Photo: Supplied. A five-person band from New Delhi. A group photo where the members are sitting, standing or hanging upside down.

Smashed: The Nightcap

This cabaret evoked many other settings: safe havens, chosen homes, an in-between space for those who identify and live in the margins of time and society. Creator of Smashed: The Nightcap, Victoria Falconer declared allegiance to the rich history of cabaret and managed to convince audiences, even in the burnished gleam of Sydney Theatre Company’s Wharf 1 Theatre, that this venue too could resemble an entry point into a Lewis Carroll-esque rabbit hole. 

With routines from the likes of Courtney Act, Karlee Misi, Reva and more, Smashed: The Nightcap was a melange of queer expression that disoriented your senses. There were stilts, pole and aerial work, drag and circus artistry to enchant – complete with a live band that played right alongside Falconer as the show’s host. 

New York’s Reva commandeered the stage with an electrifying rendition of Gladys Knight and The Pips’ ‘If I Were Your Woman’. Peppered with just the right amount of crowd work, she wended her way through the audience without rushing, alighting on each individual with a jauntiness that somehow added dimension to her misty-eyed balladry. 

Former Miss Burlesque Australia, Karlee Misi wooed the crowd via a pink-hued, ostrich-feathered pirouette of her own. With a non-traditional burlesque routine, Misi’s performance was successful in spiking everybody’s heart rate. 

In the spirit (and name) of cabaret, Smashed: The Nightcap was a quirked-up feat of the femme, spotlighting the wonderfully wayward and everything in between.


Smashed: The Nightcap was performed from 6-27 January at Wharf 1 Theatre as part of Sydney Festival 2024.

The Chosen Haram

Sadiq Ali interwove two poles of his existence in this pulsating narrative of sexuality and self-determination. An emotive work, The Chosen Haram contended with queerness and religion through physical theatre that narrated his own exodus and return as a Muslim man.

The Chosen Haram was scorching, yet tender, and Ali’s handling of his own life was bold without being brash. The work’s appeal lay entirely with Ali and co-performer Hauk Pattison’s physical prowess. The two were enmeshed at times and, at others, seemingly resistant to one another’s presence in the shared space and imagined worlds of collision. 

The soundtrack by Guy Veale played a pivotal role in the pacing of Ali’s world, bridging soundscapes of a Minogue-pulsating nightclub and Adhan (the Islamic call to prayer), as well as the inferred emotional crescendos of both men as they became, from singular entities, partners formed out of connection.

The brunt of the physical performance on adjacent Chinese poles collapsed all divisions of private and public life, tending to sketches of Ali’s life in isolation and later with his partner. The choreography never melted into the backdrop of the emotional core of the piece, but, rather, supported the world-building of the story. 

One comical moment that dispelled some of the tension planted both dancers in a mound of confetti paper, in place of cocaine. They writhed in a sea of white, bodies compact and half-submerged in the drug. An energetic mimicry of sex followed, and the two slung themselves around the parallel poles, darting in and out in gesticulated unison. Their merrymaking didn’t last, and soon Ali’s character came to an inevitable reckoning of the self: ‘Am I myself without my faith and without my body?’

Tenderness, resistance, chaos and control, The Chosen Haram dealt with the matters of the flesh. Ali’s presentation was a borderless two-step into the complex dimensions of Islam.


The Chosen Haram was performed from 16-21 January at Seymour Centre as part of Sydney Festival.

Peter Cat Recording Co.

When the five men trudged onto the circular dais of Theatre 1, ACO Pier, the crowd went silent. There was little acknowledgement of the encroaching cluster of fans that fringed the stage. And, from the stars, there was a sense of unawareness regarding their own cult status as a band that has rightfully earned its stripes in the South Asian region and, later, across North America and Europe. 

On the night of the performance, Peter Cat Recording Co. were haloed in a fluorescent swirl of blue and white when the song, ‘S**t I’m Dreaming’ began to the sound of a trumpet in decrescendo:  

‘Used to think
I was a man
Above these things
And all their plans
Thought I was
By the hat
Oh what they loved
I don’t understand
But now I want
What I can
S**t I’m dreaming

Comprising Suryakant Sawhney, Karan Singh, Dhruv Bhola, Rohit Gupta and Kartik Sundareshan, Peter Cat Recording Co. is a collective that escapes any possibility of genre pigeonholing. They are gypsy swing, cabaret, rock and psychedelic new age… Transplants from New Delhi, they later moved to sign with Paris-based label, Panache. 

Their musical genius cannot be overstated, despite the surliness of lead singer Sawhney and the threadbare amount of crowd work from the band. Not that it matters – the sonic pull of Peter Cat’s performance was palpable, zipping from crowd favourite ‘Memory Box’ to the tongue-in-cheek, ‘Where The Money Flows’, drawing in gushy oohs and audience sing-alongs from the crowd. 

The five-piece rely strongly on the fine-tuned talents of each frontman. They are marksmen of their craft, and the band works across a kaleidoscope of keys, trumpets, constructed samples and guitars to produce an architecturally impressive composition of music. All the songs are honeyed with the right tinge of melodrama – a roller-coaster of tragicomedy. The finished product is a psychedelic imprint of nondescript joys made real with Sawhney’s distinct drawl. 

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Witnessing Peter Cat Recording Co. nudges one toward rapture. On stage, they presented a compelling case for the joy of the small things in life. 


Peter Cat Recording Co. performed from 17-18 January as part of Sydney Festival.

This review is published under the Amplify Collective, an initiative supported by The Walkley Foundation and made possible through funding from the Meta Australian News Fund.

Karen Leong is a Hong Kong-born writer, journalist and critic. Drawn to reclamation and desire, her body of work operates as semiotic storytellers across art, film and fashion. Alongside her written practice, Karen works across performance and media in bridging the juncture between film and text. You can find more of her work on Vice Asia, Astrophe Magazine, Leste Magazine, and @karen.gif.