Drag artist Panti Bliss asked the audience members if they minded indicating their sexuality which, for a reviewer, is extremely useful – who comes to see the “National Fucking Treasure”? The number of heterosexual people in the Sherman Theatre audience was extremely small which was a great shame as it did mean Panti was (hopefully) largely preaching to the converted.
I say preaching because although this was a hilarious stand-up comedy routine, that concludes with a fabulous lip-synch and had all manner of in-your-face sexual routines and one liners, it was an evening of hard-hitting social political satire. Swapping a soap box for sequins, lectern for lipstick and high horse for high heels, Panti lands broadside after broadside of equality messages that sadly usually bore the pantis off an audience when coming from the likes of Stonewall.
To the uninitiated, Panti became “a national fucking treasure” in Ireland when she named and shamed a religious organisation as homophobes on RTE, faced legal action for defamation (which the TV channel caved into) and hit the big time when she made a truly remarkable speech at the Abbey theatre in Dublin. The video of the speech went viral and all manner of people from Madonna to isolated (geographically, socially and emotionally) young gay men in rural Ireland responded.
Panti pointed out that having tread the boards in her stilettos, sequins and wigs for more years than one cares to remember it was odd all of a sudden being thrust into international limelight, “Life can be weird. Like Tom Cruise,” she jokes.
Yes, there is masses of smut and downright filth which might make it traditional drag including how rather than asking her for words of wisdom she just wants men to indulge in a more physical activity as the idea of having sex with a fucking treasure seems to be “like masturbating on Stonehenge”.
The overarching theme, however, is about gender identity, masculinity and good old live-and-let-live. Her drag is not female impersonation, she tells us, but shedding largely Western society’s conventions and being free to adorn oneself. In what is perhaps the closest we get to the Abbey speech (link below) we have a routine about how we feign interest in subjects just to be accepted, often without realising we are doing it. She turns the tables on this by imagining a world where crochet takes the place of football with casual conversation being about discussing “best stitch of the day” on last night’s TV.
What is most poignant though is her account of living with HIV, her mother in Western Ireland and the attitudes of the local community pitying her having two gay sons and the suicide of a young gay man. The upbeat message her pride in being from the only nation that has legalised same-sex marriage through the ballot box and how now people in that West of Ireland village now must think how lucky her mother is.
Here’s a thought. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if an artist had the guts to do a similar routine, with as powerful a freedom message, wearing all manner of clothing and adornments that have been imbued by some of being religious and similarly imbued with even more harmful, downright evil, social convention and constraints?