In 2014 Irish drag queen Panti Bliss became a figure of national interest in Ireland after talking about homophobia in the Irish media on a late night chat show. Various of the people mentioned in this interview sued her, the TV station and anybody else they could think of. It was discussed in Irish Parliament, discussed in the European union. A subsequent speech Panti made at Abbey Theatre became a phenomenon, watched 200,000 times in two days on YouTube (it’s still up and well worth looking up).
There were messages from and re-tweets from Stephen Fry, Ru Paul, Graham Norton and Madonna. The Pet Shop Boys set it to music. Panti became a pivotal figure in the Irish debate and eventual legalisation of same sex marriage in Ireland. Since then there has been an autobiography, a documentary (The Queen of Ireland) and a never ending schedule of live shows. Tonight’s show is highly entertaining, great interaction with the audience, with discussion about dating apps, differing sexualities, ‘Panti-gate’, living with HIV, homophobia and funny stories galore. “Hello I’m Panti” she says as she greets the front rows with hand shakes, “It’s okay I am real, I’m human I am just like you. I mean, obviously I am I much better than you but you know what I mean.” Some of it is bawdy, some of it very moody, but mostly it’s just very funny.
The idea that she became an almost accidental activist is as much a surprise to her as anybody else and even National treasures would like to get laid now and again. There is a great video of her appearing on an episode of a Jerry Springer style US TV show (Maury) from 20 years ago. The episode was titled “Turn My Daughter Back Into My Son” and featured drag queens getting a reverse masculine make-over.
The funniest element of this story was that everything from Panti’s perspective was completely untrue. Her ‘sister’ was her best friend, they lied their way onto and through the show for an all expenses paid US holiday. It is a hilarious story and the fact that her look at the time was a ‘tribute to Princess Diana’, just adds to the impact. The show ends with a tremendous and traditional drag lip-sync performance of Jennifer Hudson’s power ballad from Dream Girls And I AM Telling You I’m Not Going.
In a single spotlight that makes her red sparkling dress glisten and shine with Hollywood glamour, Panti from certain angles looks exactly like Goldie Hawn. It is over-wrought, melodramatic performance and utterly fabulous. This is the sort of unexpected show that makes the Fringe an exciting time to get out of the house.
Review by Ian Bell