Thursday, July 11, 2013

THISISPOPBABY, 'All Dolled Up Restitched': High Heels in Low Places

Abbey Theatre, Dublin
July 10-20

My review of All Dolled Up Restitched by Panti coming up just as soon as I'm surrounded by the debris of a destitute transvestite ...

Knock, 1979. The Pope has come to bless the Lord's children. After what feels like the longest mass ever he abruptly departs, leaving the thousands assembled to scurry home in the dark. Among them is a young boy from Ballinrobe in Co. Mayo, who in this moment begins to realise his own abilities to think outwardly, to accept, and to transcend.

For the unacquainted, Panti is the seminal drag performer in Ireland. On a Saturday night you'll find her in Panti Bar performing cutting cultural satire, strutting in sync with the titans of pop music while donning a blonde wig so large it intimidates. She has a radical magnetism that sets her apart from other drag queens, not solely because of her piercing humour as a speaker on gay issues but also her identification with gender illusion as an art form. Panti is no surface-level act, and her shows with THISISPOPBABY reveal the life she's led as an artist.

In towering ruby heels, she steps onto the stage to the strains of Blondie's Heart of Glass, the back wall of the Peacock theatre sparking with red glitter. From the Pope, to her American aunt who brought some much needed glamour into her life, to her frolicking with performance artist Leigh Bowery in London, Panti's tale of self-discovery has its salicious stories (some with added heartbreak), its priceless barbs, and also prompts some serious questions about sexuality and gender. Cross-dressing remains to be one of the last great taboos in the world, she reveals. And would you have thought that the image of a man dressed as a woman is widely perceived as a weaker position than that of a woman dressed as a man?

Panti's monologue brims with wicked humour but is not strictly stand-up. The intelligent design of it is to interrogate a crucial question of beauty. There's still a violence today, a discrimination from those who deem the image of a man dressed as a woman to be offensive to their gender. The likes of Panti can cross gender lines, set fires and blur the binaries of male and female. And as seen in her thundering finale number she is a human battered and bruised, loving and longing, tested and triumphant.

What did everybody else think?

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