Wednesday 22 November 2017


john mckeown

all dolled up restitched

peacock theatre, dublin

It's perhaps unsurprising that Panti, Ireland's foremost drag queen, was profoundly influenced by "men in outlandish costume". But when you hear that one of them was Pope John Paul II, you prick up your ears.

In one of the most earnestly related anecdotes of this new autobiographical show, Panti paints a vivid picture of thousands of the devout trudging home along the dark wet roads of Mayo, bitterly disappointed at the Holy Father's unwillingness, or inability, to come among them in person. Already sceptical, this moment was an epiphany for the twelve-year-old, "unhooking" her from "the dead weight of religion".

The second epiphany, which led her to hook on a dress, was meeting the ultra-exhibitionist performance artist Leigh Bowery while at art school in London in the 1980s.

It's quickly made clear that Ms Panti is no inarticulate desperado in a dress and Dolly Parton wig, but a girl of fierce determination and intelligence, who takes her art very seriously.

She talks about the psychology of drag, and spends some time dissecting the twilight mentality of 'tranny chasers', straight men obsessed with other men dressed as females; she illustrates it with an experience of her own with a French novelist who tracked her down in Dublin, knowing for certain only the colour of her front door.

She gets plenty of less worshipful attention from militant Christians who tell her at length how she's going to roast in hell, and end by telling her Jesus loves her.

But such are the perils of having such a glamourous presence on Twitter, where far less attractive admirers than the French novelist gruntingly invite her for dates.

She tells us she's a girl who's still looking for love, and it's hard not to believe her – as hard as it is not to use the feminine object pronoun when talking about her. But so fused is she with her feminine identity that though it's (just) possible to imagine her without the wig and the dress, it's impossible to imagine her doing anything remotely associated with masculinity. The years of dedication to her craft have obviously paid off.

And she provides some fascinating observations about the craft and cross-dressing in general, though it's anything but a PowerPoint presentation.

Along with the exegesis of drag, we get all the trademarks of the drag-queen persona we know and, possibly, love: the bitchiness, the crudity, the grandiose self-deprecation.

Panti has her own unique combination of these, with the added sprinkling of the inspirational figure.

Irish Independent

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