Saturday, November 19, 2016

Review: 'Tonight with Donny Stixx' at the Bunker, 18th November 2016

Poor little Donny Stixx. Born with a club foot to a mother that despises imperfection, socially maladjusted and trapped in a delusion that stardom is just around the corner. Life has dealt him the worst possible cards yet Donny is certain he's holding a winning hand.

Philip Ridley's Tonight with Donny Stixx is an autopsy of a shattered person desperately trying to reassemble himself. He's played by Sean Michael Verey delivering an 80 minute monologue on a flat, empty expanse of grey. 

We first meet Donny as a warped entertainer, struggling through banter audience banter and emitting periodic barks of forced, machine-gun laughter. Donny cargo cults his way through how he thinks a light entertainer should behave, but his obvious lack of charisma and faint desperation quickly unnerves. That awkwardness only amplifies as he responds to a silent question from the audience and explodes into spittle-flecked, red-faced rage and yowls that he will not talk about the massacre he committed.

Wait, what? 

Slowly the pieces begin to fall into place. The jeans, sneakers and plain blue t-shirt outfit suddenly clicks into place and we realise we're locked in prison with Donny. This awkward, scary and volatile kid has done something awful.

Gradually we learn more about Donny. Driven by Oedipal desires, he hates his Dad and is devoted to impressing his monster of a mother. She applauds his amateur magic act - and so he becomes "Donny Stixx, the boy with tricks". Having gained his mother's approval, he sets his sights on magical stardom, beginning to put on little shows for friends and family. But are they laughing with him, or at him?

Sean Michael Verey fully inhabits Donny, lurching the poles between obsequiousness and raving psychopathy. Being sat in close proximity to him feels genuinely dangerous, especially given his tendency to approach the front row, eyes rolling around in his head like snooker balls, teeth bared, face red and sweat rolling down his face. Verey also makes fantastic use of the space, sometimes shrinking at the back corner of the stage before charging forward and looming over us, lost in confused rage.

Ridley has always had a great handle on showing broken minds trying to paper over the cracks, and Donny is up there with hus best. Without ever slipping into exposition, he paints a realistic psychological profile of a boy desperate to entertain and please people, but pathologically unable to. There's a painful ratcheting up of the tension as we gradually deduce the chasm between Donny's perception of reality and how it actually is. Towards the end, one of the central pillars of Donny's sense of self is demolished, sending him freewheeling towards atrocity.

Tonight with Donny Stixx is a determinedly focussed production, shearing away every distraction to rub our nose in burning human wreckage. It's one of those productions that lodges firmly in the mind; Verey's contorted face and sad/vicious eyes sure to turn up in a nightmare one day.


Tonight with Donny Stixx is at the Bunker Theatre until 3rd December. Tickets here.

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