All Dolled Up: Restitched

Panti in 'All Dolled Up: Restitched' on the Peacock stage. Photo: Fiona Morgan

Panti in 'All Dolled Up: Restitched' on the Peacock stage. Photo: Fiona Morgan

Somewhere in the middle of her latest theatrical outing All Dolled Up: Restitched, Panti casually refers to a memoir she intends to one day write: "High Heels and Low Places". It was an easy joke in a night full of hilarity, but it was intriguing nonetheless. While the book would of course be welcomed, would we even need a Panti memoir given her body of work in the theatre over the past six years?

Photo: Fiona MorganDespite her many familiar guises – dilettante, entrepreneur, publican, provocateur, national treasure – Panti has quietly established herself as one of Ireland’s most prolific autobiographers, with theatre as her preferred medium. Since 2007, Panti has written and performed in four autobiographical pieces of one-woman theatre in collaboration with playwright and director Phillip McMahon: In These Shoes?, All Dolled Up, A Woman in Progress, and now Restitched. All of these revolve around a central journey: the metamorphosis of a boy from Ballinrobe into a larger-than-life drag queen via pitstops in Dublin art college, London, Tokyo’s tranny scene and plenty of other unexpected places and, as she gladly informs us, orifices. For all its bombast, being a drag performer is essentially a voiceless artform, where a performer occupies someone else’s song, so it is perhaps worth asking what it is about the refined air of the theatre that Panti finds so alluring.

The set of Restitched is not all too dissimilar from other Panti performances: the name ‘Panti’ is writ in large against a sultry red stage, while a video screen hangs in the background. Panti manoeuvres the stage in heels and an elegant, form-fitting red dress designed by James David Seaver. The narrative starts ahead of the O’Neill family’s trip to Knock for the 1979 Papal visit. A crisis of faith ensues amid the throngs of believers, and Panti is born. Restitched is thus about the events that formed her, and whether she is revealing in rather colourful detail the physical feats performed during her spell running a Dublin bondage night called G.A.G, the time she met Dolly Parton or her problem with tranny chasers, the tone throughout is ribald and outrageous without ever being offensive (even if Restitched features possibly the first ever defecation joke on the stage of the National Theatre).

In its constant barrage of quips and one-liners, Restitched is not too dissimilar from a highly-polished stand-up routine. Panti is an accomplished performer, owning the stage as if she were performing in some seedy karaoke bar, and the few bits of spontaneous audience interaction work extremely well. The small video screen, offering occasional visual glimpses into Panti’s past, felt underutilised, even if it kept the focus right where it should be – on the star.

And while a wry, bitchy humour pervades, Restitched is not merely a romp. Towards the end of the performance, Panti sheds light on the difficulty – both in life and in love – of being HIV positive. She’s lived with the disease for almost two decades and isn’t looking for anyone’s sympathy. It’s perhaps in this section where Restitched is raised to something beyond merely comedic storytelling. Panti has survived. She’s survived rural Ireland, survived the myriad of crazy situations described in this performance, survived HIV. And like any survivor, she has wisdom to pass on: that being gay is a gift, that being provocative is empowering, that drag is art. The performance ends with a glorious lip-synced rendition of Jennifer Holliday’s ‘And I am Telling You I’m Not Going’ that’s clearly an homage to Panti’s drag roots, and this certainly doesn’t feel like the last time we’ll find her on stage, reinventing herself.

Donald Mahoney

  • Review
  • Theatre

All Dolled Up: Restitched by Panti

10 - 20 July 2013

In the Abbey Theatre (Peacock stage)

Written and performed by Panti

Directed by Phillip McMahon

Costume: James David Seaver