Earlier this year, Panti dragged a debate about homophobia into the public realm. Resisting the pressure of being a LGBT representative, the drag queen returns to form.
Earlier this year I wrote about Panti's performances on the Saturday Night Show and her Noble Call. My review of High Heels in Low Places coming up just as soon as I see Madonna's arm ...
The thing about being a public symbol: you don't have much control over what you represent. Those in attendance for Panti's new show for queer outfit THISISPOPBABY are likely after the inside scoop on the drag queen's incendiary performance on RTE's The Saturday Night Show, the controversial censorship and legal actions that followed, as well as the game-changing 'noble call' that sent a powerful message of oppression across the world. While earnestly grateful for the support she's received over the year, the drag queen seems set to sidestep in glittery heels from the path of becoming a figurehead: "If you've come expecting words of wisdom, then you're at the wrong show."
Suspicious of pressures to behave as the "perfect gay" or as representative of the LGBT community, High Heels in Low Places is Panti's return to form, as well as normality. Drag is a form more irreverent than most, and in this instance it might demythologise the heavy symbolism and any expectations placed on the performer to be someone she's not. Slinging the term "National Fucking Treasure" with such self-importance that would shadow Twink's use of the Irish Independent to appeal for her missing dog, the drag queen is back in a state of glorious irreverence.
Treading the boards in Philip McMahon's flexible staging, wearing sparkling heels and a magenta dress, Panti balances improvisation and reading the audience with a script full of priceless stories featuring solicitors' letters ("'Homophobe' is not the worst thing you can call someone. 'Solange Knowles' is"), a disaffected Madonna in attendance at a funeral, and an offended childhood friend who struck the drag queen a personal blow. She intelligently refers to a derogatory system of gender values, and most interestingly shares her experiences with men attracted to transvestites, who understand 'drag' on a level that some others don't. It reveals the complexity of masculine identity experienced by men, both gay and straight.
Towards the end, the performer tells the story of her first television appearance. Maury Povich's talk show was looking for participants on an episode where drag queens are given 'back to boy makeovers'. Panti, only interested in the free trip to New York, went along with friend and comedienne Katherine Lynch. Deceiving the producers by playing to laughably contrived Irish stereotypes, it reminds us that the drag queen is still as subversive and in control of her image than ever.
What did everybody else think?