Panti Bliss' High Heels in Low Places takes no prisoners
The Queen of Ireland tackles identity, queer culture and AIDS in an unflinching show
Deadlier than an Emma Peel hair flick, actor, activist and stand-up Rory O' Neill's Glamazon drag queen Panti Bliss is prowling the audience for attractive men, bemoaning the fact that after the 'Pantigate' scandal in 2014 – when she publicly declared certain sections of the Irish media homophobic, resulting in a massive lawsuit and worldwide support for her – she was deemed cuddly, rather than sexy. Alluding to the complexities and time spent dealing with the case, she quips, 'My lawyer and I spent more time together than the Fritzl family'.
She regards herself as 'a court jester, saying the unsayable', and certainly some of her material is enough to make more sensitive people choke on their Appletinis. But she's articulate and even-handed, never dishing out more than can be taken.
There are no taboos left untouched in this raw but warm and intimate show, teetering stiletto-like on the precipice between stand-up and theatre. AIDS is given a kicking with throwaway jokes, which nonetheless expose her pain (O'Neill was diagnosed with HIV in 1995) and struggle for survival.
Comedy often hurts in order to hit the spot, and Panti is absolutely fearless. She speaks movingly of growing up gay in a working-class area of County Mayo, and the backlash her family faced; how gender is 'performed', with ingrained societal behaviour and clothing a superficial limitation that benefits nobody; and the uselessness of labelling, even within the LGBTQI community.
It's the sharp acidic tang of this more vulnerable material that gives High Heels in Low Places its power. Hilarious, outspoken and sparklingly beautiful.
Reviewed at Tramway, Glasgow, at performance festival Take Me Somewhere. Touring the UK until Tue 25 Apr.