Philip Ridley’s Tonight with Donny Stixx returns to London stages with a welcoming start at The Bunker. The play, which follows on from the success of Skin a Cat in the new venue, begins slowly but builds up with a crippling tension predicting a horrific outcome. Sean Michael Verey’s vigorous performance lands this one man show at the top of its style.
Donny is a sexually confused teenager with mental health problems. With Yvonne, his mother, deceased, having committed suicide, the dependence of others feeds his satisfaction. Upon his father suffering a stroke, it’s his Aunt Jess that goes out of her way to provide Donny with maternal love.
When he is pushed onto others whilst learning the tricks of magic, Donny is able to ignore reality and live in his own fantasy. Cue the arrival of Corey, a chiselled cap-wearing man, and Donny’s fascination reveals a much different side to his behaviour. How does Donny go from being the community kid to the most hated boy alive?
Ridley’s profound script about mental health depicts the illness and its effects on two generations without Donny describing himself on any level of the spectrum. From the moment Donny speaks, an angry boy appears to pent his anger, yet his troubles are far from what anyone could imagine. In reality when one person decides to walk into a nightclub and kill many people, society is left to decide whether their legacy will be positive or something far sinister. Tonight with Donny Stixx instead enables a much troubled individual to give an exclusive interview – one not tampered by journalists.
Not everyone is favourable towards one man shows despite the increase in monologues dominating the UK theatre scene. Over the past few years many transfers of one person vehicles to London from fringe festivals, in particular Edinburgh, have occurred.
David Mercatali, Southwark Playhouse’s Associate Director, directs to allow the story to unfold and uses Donny’s vulnerable moments to increase tension, particularly during the last moments. Although a happy ending is not predicted, moments of shock and surprise pull you into Donny’s world.
The production is supported by an impressive creative tream. William Reynold’s design uses a square in which nothing is added yet nothing stripped away. Not only does the script require the portrayal of many different people in a community, Donny expresses various levels of energy, and this is something that Verey encompasses in his performance.
Although the angry moments do distract from the script, Verey’s character’s confusion is evident at all times and, in particular, when he is susceptible towards his cousin, and the man he is drawn to. Verey uses these opportunities to fill the bare stage with Donny’s troubled yet vibrant history. The stage is lit throughout, bringing Donny to the brink of a manic response. Although different states of lighting could accentuate the darker moments, the constant brightness adds to Donny’s meltdown.
Tonight with Donny Stixx gives mental health a platform. Governments, let alone societies, disregard individuals, with concern and confusion directed towards the illness. Up until atrocities take place – then people respond with outrage. Ridley uses this play to allow the audience to step into the mind of a person committing one of these atrocities. More importantly it touches on the mental health of people who are LGBTQ without any support or assurances from family and peers.
Both the script and Verey exceed expectations, particularly during the moments in which his vulnerability is at its highest. Both the venue and the creative team behind this production are ones to follow.