Irish performer Rory O'Neill's drag queen Panti is a commanding stage presence. 'You will love me' is the start and finish of her show. A consummate story teller is Panti, and a most unlikely product of rural Ireland's County Mayo. She shares her life story in a monologue rich in imagery, detail and vicious humour. She opens with a detailed description of Return to Eden – an Australian soap no-one remembers. Panti's a natural writer; her language is quite formal and flows beautifully. The girl does have a turn of phrase. Her one-liners are comedy platinum and she wisely sprinkles them at odd moments, saving some of the best til near the end. She describes HIV, for instance, as the Kylie Minogue of infections – at first only the gays got it. There's just the one drag song that comes at the finale, an intense and perfectly synched synch to 'And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going' (Jennifers Holliday and Hudson).
You enter a limited relationship with this one, though, she's such a classy dame it's hard not to feel her social inferior, never mind that she's telling you stories about strings of sausages being hauled out her arse. Superiority is fine when it's a shtick – it's a classic drag stance – but when it moves to a sense that the performer needs to feel like this, you don't want to lend her your heart, despite her fabulous honesty and call to live life like you're on fire. I felt sympatico with her story but distanced from her. I couldn't help but compare this act to Englishman Chris Greene's Tina C, a drag character who also adopts an 'I'm so much better than you' pose yet there's sweetness to her; you sense that she cares that you care. Panti gives us a fun, intelligent show – she's thought a lot about gender issues but the impression is that she's gifting us; that all of us, the dykes, poofs and lonely bi's, cosmopolitian sophisticated urban Melbourne theatre-goers, all there because we 'get drag', ought to feel privileged to be in her presence. She lost me when she said that if we 'don't like drag' or don't like her then we don't like the concept of trannies or men frocking up. Excuuuuuuse me? What were we doing there, then? The main reason women don't like drag is that it's so often mired in misogyny. Panti's audience comprised gay boys, Irish dykes and lots of straight women (and two brave bi's – if only they'd met!). We know this cos she made everyone identify by holding up their hands. Those left over by the end of the audience survey had to be the trannie-chasers. This was a very funny move and, bless, if all her confession doesn't make you want to stand up and be proud, too... Of whatever.
Panti reveals everything and is witheringly honest and generous with herself: her past (partying with Lee Bowery, the orgies the mad sex shows in Berlin and Tokyo – jealous? Just a tad), her HIV status but the show is delivered in a word perfect, performative 'I've told these stories a hundred times before' tone, Irish accent notwithstanding. Panti's made sure she's not dependent on her audience's approval, so the show feels like a one-way street. Having said that – the failure of the lighting rig just towards the end was a blow and when Panti said 'the director will crack the shits' we knew, really, she meant herself.
All Dolled Up
written and performed by Panti
Venue: Foxtel Festival Hub
Dates: 24 & 25 Oct, 2013