In recent times, the Vanguard has become a hub for cabaret, themed burlesque and musical theatre, so the appearance of an Irish drag act would have come as no surprise to followers of the venue. The crowd on opening night were predominantly Irish; Aussies, you missed out.
On closer inspection, the pedigree of Panti, a.k.a performer Rory O’Neill, is apparent. The show has been brought to our shores by ‘Thisispopbaby’, a company well known in Panti’s homeland for presenting high quality events everywhere from music festivals to the historic Abbey Theatre. Panti has been on the drag scene for more than eighteen years; highlights of her career include touring with Cyndi Lauper in Japan and producing the ‘Alternative Miss Ireland contest.’
The bulk of the show consists of snapshots and stories from this career. She begins with stories about her childhood; from her birth to respectable parents in a small village in County Mayo, to the momentous event when the Pope visited Ireland and the young Rory realised he couldn’t identify with the people around him. Panti describes how her drag career began as an art school project, references times when Ireland was a cultural wasteland and talks candidly about subjects such as HIV. It sounds as if the topics shouldn’t have a universal quality, but they do. All good comedy must contain elements of drama and truth; this is great comedy. The double entendres are plentiful but rarely tacky, her energy is infectious and even the obligatory lip synced song at the end is humorous.
There is probably no more appropriate description of Panti than that from ‘The Irish Times’ earlier this year, when a journalist described her as ‘a cross between a wayward head mistress and a tipsy Hollywood legend who has seen it all’. From the moment when she bursts on stage and begins to talk with trademark Irish speed, to her grand finale, the crowd are captivated, repaying her talent with a standing ovation. The credit is well deserved.