Are you ready for a revolution? A mission statement of the new Ireland and the mostly millennial performers who star in it and who are not prepared to take the status quo anymore.
Fresh out of Dublin (in tight-fitting GAA shorts and sparkling body glitter) comes Riot, the mission statement of the new Ireland and the mostly millennial performers who star in it and who are not prepared to take the status quo anymore.
Be warned, you are going to find this ninety-minute eruption of dance, music, color, and spectacle at NYU's Skirball Center this weekend impossible to resist and impossible to dismiss too, because under its sparkly hood there's some hard-hitting anger at how we live and how we are forced to live now. Think Lords of Strut meets the GPO in 1916.
Few Irish people literally embody the dramatic change that has come to Ireland like Rory O'Neill, the equality rights activist world famous now for his celebrity alter ego Panti Bliss. As she proved over and over again during the marriage referendum, when she talks, people listen.
So it's appropriate that Panti plays mistress of ceremonies for a show that wants to drive the final nail into the coffin of The Quiet Man. Speaking to the IrishCentral from the tours current stop in Melbourne, Australia, she tells New Yorkers what to expect.
"The tour is going spectacularly well, the reviews have been fantastic, and the tickets have been selling like hotcakes,” O'Neill aka Panti, tells the IrishCentral.
In each new country, for the first few nights of the show, there's always a lot of Irish people because they see Panti as a postcard from home she says. “I'm like a Barry's tea bag. It doesn't matter what age they are they just like the Irish references. Younger ones like to bring their American mates to say look, that's the country I come from, it's not The Quiet Man version that you saw.”
Riot was put together before Brexit and before Trump but it turns out the cast was psychic because all the stuff they talk about in the show has become more relevant and pertinent since they started, O'Neill says. “It turns out it doesn't matter whether you are Irish or not, everybody gets it.”
“There's a lot of text, a lot of narrative Irish stuff, so people never quite know what they're coming to and we're not much help explaining. It changes every five minutes. One minute you're screaming laughing and the next it's something really serious. But in general it's noisy and colorful and a big night out. Somehow it all manages to work, that's the funny thing about it.”
The Riot cast made the show for Ireland and about Ireland and they did wonder if those references were things that foreigners would get. They needn't have worried. The striptease with a GAA footballer guy who eats Tayto crisps in the middle of his routine needs no explanation apparently.“Foreigners may not get exactly why eating Tayto's whilst taking your clothes off is hilarious to Irish people, but everybody seems to get it though. There are universal themes in the whole show.”
Riverdance, as millions remember, was a cultural moment in the 1990's when the Irish stepped onto the world stage and said traditional Irish music and dancing can appeal to anybody.
“It said something about Ireland at the time,” O'Neill agrees. “Our little joke among ourselves was what would our Riverdance look like if we did it? And that's what we made. It's a reflection of the Ireland that we know and live in now, which is so far removed from the 1950's view that so many people in the US and Australia still have of Ireland. I don't recognize that Ireland really. I mean, I grew up in Mayo so yes I did see farmers walking sheep across country roads, but I feel like a tourist when I see that myself.”
To O'Neill Ireland is the country they put on stage in Riot. “The one with nutty performers and stupid fun and clever jokes and banter. There are two gay performers out of eleven of us, but it has a queer sensibility I would say. In a weird way, Ireland all have had a queer sensibility. There's a delight in mocking identity and being irreverent. Look at Flann O'Brien and people like that.”What do foreign audiences not get? The Irish tradition of taking the mickey, of slagging, he says. “They really don't get the Irish slagging thing at all. The way we say the most horrible things to each other once we have a few drinks on us. All we do is make jokes about how fat or stupid or ugly our friends are. That actually means we really like you. That's the way the Irish gays have interacted with each other too. This show doesn't have bitchy comments but it does have banter. It constantly throwing jokes at you. It's very fun, colorful and jokey on the surface, but it's also saying some very serious stuff about the state of the world today.”
Here's an illuminating detail. Riot was first presented in 2016. “We actually got money from the 1916 commemoration fund,” O'Neill explains. “That's why the show has the theme of revolution. That's why it's called Riot. At the moment all that stuff is still in the air, you know?”
The #metoo Weinstein moment hadn't happened when Riot kicked off and yet a huge part of the show is exactly about that, about how men treat women, about catcalling and teenage pregnancy. “It really does seem that we're the most psychic people in the world. It seems more relevant now than it was in 2016 when we first presented it.”
Is it more fun to do a Panti show or a collaborative show where others take the limelight too? Well, nobody expects me to behave well. This show is much more fun for me than a regular Panti show because it's normally just me, the director and the stage manager. Two comedy acrobats from West Cork, an aerialist from Roscommon, torch singers and so on, it's more fun."
If Panti was carnival barker outside the theatre how would she tempt the punters in? “I would say that even though it comes with some serious stuff to think about it's hidden in the show. Expect a noisy colorful wild night out.”
Riot plays NYU's Skirball Center in a co-presentation with The Irish Arts Center on February 15, 16 and 17. For tickets call 212-998-4941.