Another searing, brutal monologue from writer Philip Ridley.
The latest play from master of the dark monologue Philip Ridley is this companion piece to 2013’s ‘Dark Vanilla Jungle’. Like its sister-work ‘Tonight with Donny Stixx’ is hard to stomach: a shattering story of one vulnerable young person pushed to a violent edge. And like the most recent production of ‘Dark Vanilla Jungle’ it’s directed by David Mercatali who again elicits a vein throbbing, red-faced, sweat-soaked performance from the lone actor onstage.
Sean Michael Verey gives a superbly shocking, intense and all-encompassing performance. The piece begins as if Donny were hosting a talk-show; he smiles and gurns, he charms the audience, he laughs hollowly at his own jokes until he cracks and suddenly he’s screaming. Angry, mad, vicious and bitter he begins to relay his tale of neglect, spitting out a story of mental abuse, grief, breakdown and horrible violence.
To begin with, when we get the glimpses of what Donny has done – some sort of shooting, maybe in a church, some sort of mass murder – we think he’s a monster. But, as always with Ridley – and as with life – it’s complicated. Donny’s life – with an unstable, controlling, unhappy mother who he idolises – is unravelled and the responsibility for his actions begins to shift onto other shoulders.
‘Tonight with Donny Stixx’ is no easy ride – that’s not Ridley’s style. Mercatali knows exactly this and he plants Michael Verey slap bang in the middle of the stage where, as a highly strung and tortured Donny, he accuses us, asks us questions, pleads with us and cajoles us into listening to his story. It’s impossible to turn away and we are caught horribly between sympathy and loathing.
Where ‘Dark Vanilla Jungle’ was a script that built and built until it broke you down with its horrors, ‘Tonight with Donny Stixx’ doesn’t have quite the same craft. The early moments where Donny hosts his TV show feels as though it’s there because ‘psycho-killer hosts TV show’ sounds like a good premise. But as we descend into this play, it’s difficult not to be crumpled by its force. It’s a hard, brutal, intense work that will leave you open-mouthed and gasping for air.
Michael Verey really is great. He shifts from older Donny to younger Donny with ease, and portrays his fractured unhappy mind brilliantly. It’s a tour-de-force performance filled with heart, guts, gristle and guile.