Arts Review: High Heels In Low Places – Panti Bliss

Tramway, 11th march

As part of Glasgow’s Tramway-based Take Me Somewhere festival, Panti Bliss – Ireland’s foremost drag queen and prominent gay rights activist – brings her acclaimed stand-up/monologue show High Heels in Low Places in front of a packed auditorium in the Pollokshields theatre. There’s little warning of what to expect, and the production – much like Panti herself – refuses to stick to any rigid format or convention. She breaks up the story-telling core with several departures in several different mediums: an immersive experience which reins itself in every so often, with frequent reflections on the very serious topics of Panti’s beginnings and rise to international fame.

Panti Bliss fully formed is a brilliant sight (quite literally, given the red sequined dress she’s donned tonight) and she easily commands the room. Before first introductions are over she’s already up and down the aisles, brazenly interacting with audience members in a way that would probably seem contrived if she weren’t literally a fictional character. As a speaker she’s entertaining just to watch (so much so that the sign language interpreter seems to increase their own extravagance to keep up), but also engaging (her go-to vocal filler is a punchy ‘youknowwhatever!’ which keeps the dialogue in motion) and cleverly funny, making a self-indulgent drag-scene inside joke before rapidly, breathlessly deconstructing the decision to include it in the show, pushing the laughs higher and higher until she has to draw breath. The comedy certainly isn’t lacking – a highlight being the hilarious story of her pre-fame “back to boy makeover’ on the Maury Povich Show – and it’s mixed well with thoughts on more serious issues, like her experience with HIV and the gay rights campaigns, as well as her own take on the popular opinion that drag is misogynistic.

Ending with a classic drag show lip sync to Jennifer Holliday’s ‘And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going’, High Heels in Low Places is probably a good starter point for anyone interested in the drag scene, but also for anyone looking at it from a political platform. Panti’s heartfelt accounts of her experiences  growing up gay in rural western Ireland still contain most of the hardy battle-cry in her acclaimed speech at Dublin’s Abbey Theatre in 2014 that cemented her as a National Fucking Treasure™.

[Ciaran McQueen – @_delareine]

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