• Chris O'Rourke

Haunted/If These Wigs Could Talk


Panti Bliss in If These Wigs Could Talk by Panti Bliss, directed by Phillip McMahon. Image: Ruth Medjbar


****

It’s a curious one, THISISPOPBABY’S Haunted by Tara Flynn and If These Wigs Could Talk by Patti Bliss. The refurbished Peacock bar aspiring to cabaret vibes for this unique double bill. Walls of red velvet and extra chairs looking more Abbey Arts Centre than burlesque’s brunch or Panti Bar. The usual apology of beverages and nibbles making the intermission, an hour and a quarter long, longer than either show, a test of patience given that stage changes could have been managed in the time it takes to order the drink most languished over till the next show started.

Tara Flynn in Haunted by Tara Flynn, directed by Phillip McMahon. Image: Ruth Medjber


It’s also a curious choice for a double bill. Two one hour, one woman performances serving up confessional autobiographies from lives less ordinary. Strip away the dress and the bathrobe and each tells essentially the same story in essentially the same formulaic way. Young, reckless, country girl misfits, each with dominant Dads, find themselves caught up in activism for a worthy cause in repressive Ireland. Each suffering the slings and arrows of outraged social media trolls, only to emerge triumphant. Who now find themselves considering the cost and asking what comes next? In the case of Haunted, Flynn bears the brunt for her honesty in admitting to an abortion during the Repeal the 8th campaign. In If These Wigs Could Talk, Panti, unless you’ve been living under a rock on Uran…Saturn, reminds us she was poster girl for The Marriage Equality Referendum. Both campaigns enjoying their Rocky victories, replete with Bill Conti soundtrack. Both warriors in their dressing room now, alone, feeling the bruises after the final bell. Wondering who was really in their corner, and if maybe it’s time to throw in the towel

Panti Bliss in If These Wigs Could Talk by Panti Bliss, directed by Phillip McMahon. Image: Ruth Medjbar


If both stories are similar, the guarded Flynn and visceral Panti prove distinctly unique. If Flynn is looking for her marbles on the floor, Panti is adjusting her crown. The fame adjacent Flynn, she of the chocolate boner and dog poop ads, proves wonderfully theatrical under Phillip McMahon’s sensitive direction. A cleverly used armchair sees Flynn constantly rearranging the furniture of her mind, creating captivating visual snapshots. Panti, in contrast, is theatre in a dress and a Dolly Parton wig, also beautifully judged in terms of direction by McMahon. Even the stage looks too small for her. With anecdotes and references to Irish mythology and women healers, Flynn is the voice of reason speaking reasonably. Panti, with less structured anecdotes about vibrators and Harry Potter, but also being the voice of reason, shrieks unapologetically that you’d better shut up and listen to what she has to say. She is every gay, trans and outsider’s big sister and she has Flynn beside her. Another woman who’ll go to the wall for those treated unjustly, like Savita Halappanavar. Flynn and Panti decimating you with their humour, moving you with their honesty, igniting you with their passion. If you’re looking for someone to stand next to you in a fight, be that at Electric Picnic, Sarajevo, or a Pride festival in Mayo, or anywhere hate tries take hold and you feel alone and overwhelmed, these are the sisters to oblige you. One might be whistling in the dark, but she has the heart of a lion. The other might roar like a lion, but she has a heart as caring as it is reckless.

Tara Flynn in Haunted by Tara Flynn, directed by Phillip McMahon. Image: Ruth Medjber

It might be tempting to think warm up act followed by headliner, but Flynn and Panti are co-headliners collaborating rather than competing. Their differences being what makes them…ehm…different. Even as both are smart, savvy performers with brilliant comic stylings, one being understated, one being in your face, with no prize for guessing who’s who. Set and costume design by Molly O’Cathain, and an exquisite and exquisitely timed lighting design by Sinéad McKenna, go a long way to heightening a sense of theatre. But when it comes down it, what Haunted and If These Wigs Could Talk offer are less theatrical tales so much as privileged encounters with two remarkable women.

Panti Bliss in If These Wigs Could Talk by Panti Bliss, directed by Phillip McMahon. Image: Ruth Medjbar


Queen of Ireland, Panti, like Marsha P. Johnson, is one of the all time great drag queens. One who helped define drag and lived its subversion at great personal cost when it could be fatal to do so. Who used it as a super power to make the invisible visible. Panti, like Flynn, has been hugely important in moving Ireland from witches cottages and dark basements to sunlit castle courtyards. But don’t go to Haunted and If These Wigs Could Talk for those reasons. Go because they’re seriously good fun, being both hugely entertaining and enlightening. But if you need a political reason, go because, even if many battles have been won against bigotry and hatred, and in support of women’s rights, those battles are still being fought elsewhere. And the war is far from over here at home. So go see both shows. You get discounted tickets if you do.


Haunted by Tara Flynn and If These Wigs Could Talk by Patti Bliss, directed by Phillip McMahon in an Abbey Theatre and THISISPOPBABY co-production, runs at The Peacock Stage of The Abbey Theatre until December 3.


For more information, visit THISISPOPBABY or The Abbey Theatre

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