One of the great tasks of a parent or guardian is to protect their offspring from harm and danger. However, is it possible to protect them from the realities of life? And what happens when they find out that everything they have believed about themselves is fundamentally wrong on every level? The consequences of this can be seen in Philip Ridley’s play Tonight with Donny Stixx at South East London’s newest theatrical venue, The Bunker.
As the lights go down, a figure edges his way onto the stage. Compared to the size of the performance space, he seems very small and looks nervous. He tries to speak then chickens out, then tries again and eventually Donny Stixx (Sean Michael Verey) starts to talk. The format of Donny’s show is the standard ‘Tonight With’ variety, questions from the audience and anecdotes about his life and fame, some humour, some tears, and – like all celebrities doing this type of evening – only really talking about the subjects he wants to discuss. However, Donny is different. His celebrity status is not based on a lifetime on the boards. No, Donny’s fame comes from something else. Donny has committed a crime, a crime that has shocked the nation. A crime that has given the tabloids an amazing range of attention grabbing headlines and ensured his notoriety and fame forever. But, whilst Donny is nervous but really affable and is happy to talk to his audience about Yvonne, Aunt Jess, Sharmi, Corey and magic, he vehemently doesn’t want to discuss anything else.
Tonight with Donny Stixx is going to be a really difficult play to review, mainly because I really want to avoid any spoilers so that when you go and see it, you experience Donny’s story in the same way I did which was with a range of emotions from quizzical interest, through amusement, horror and a sense of understanding – not necessarily in that order.
Philip Ridley has written an amazingly intense character in Donny with a story that really does grip the viewer and hold onto them for the roughly one hour running time as we move from the ‘Tonight With’ stage back to Donny’s past and relive the events leading up to his infamous act. But more than that, we get a real sense of the person himself and the people around him, especially Aunt Jess who, for all the right reasons, did so much to protect him from reality and, in many ways was instrumental in Donny’s final act – a guilt I’m sure Jess would carry with her forever.
However, Tonight with Donny Stixx is more than great writing – and I would recommend buying the playtext to read through – it is also a fantastic one man show where I’m not sure I can heap enough praise on Sean Michael Verey for his masterful portrayal not only of Donny but also the other characters in the boy’s life. As Donny though, Sean Michael really sparkle’s though. Donny is many characters built into one. A cheesy performer, a man on the edge, an affable chap telling a story, a loner, a vulnerable wannabe, a dreamer, a foul-mouthed verbally abusive and terrifying figure. All of these facets and more make up Donny’s character and Sean Michael really brings him to life. The performance is highly physical – as evidence by Sean Michael’s blue tee-shirt getting steadily sweatier as the show went on – and every inch of the large thrust stage – totally devoid of props and scenery – is used to tell Donny’s story. A spectacular performance from a truly gifted actor.
Writing this now, and I realise I have, with the exception of the writer, completely forgotten the other person that had such an influence on the performance, Director David Mercatali. This is probably because the performance was just so natural that the thought someone had spent hours blocking out all the segments just never occurred to me.
In The Bunker, at the end of the show, they keep the bar open so that the audience can socialise, have a drink and meet the cast and creatives of the show. I left immediately it finished because I really didn’t want to meet Sean Michael as that would have meant losing Donny who had become a completely real person in my mind. And this is what, for me, made this production so great. Yes I was sat on a really comfy leather chair looking at a stage, but I wasn’t watching an actor. No I was in the audience of Tonight with Donny Stixx experiencing his life first hand and, I can only end this review in Donny’s own words “Expect to be surprised, expect to be amazed and most of all…expect the unexpected”
Review by Terry Eastham
Metal Rabbit, in association with The Bunker Theatre, present the London transfer of critically acclaimed Edinburgh Festival sell-out TONIGHT WITH DONNY STIXX.
Donny has committed an act that shocked everyone. Tabloids called him The Most Hated Boy alive. But Donny doesn’t want forgiveness. All Donny wants is… his own television show.
Evening Standard Award-nominated director David Mercatali (BLUE HEART, CARGO) and playwright Philip Ridley (MERCURY FUR, DARK VANILLA JUNGLE) reunite for this tour-de-force. Powered by a Stage Award winning performance from Sean Michael Verey (PRAMFACE, RADIANT VERMIN), TONIGHT WITH DONNY STIXX is a compelling one-man show about our obsession with celebrity and the dangers of delusion.
Written by Time Out, Evening Standard and Critics’ Circle Award winner Philip Ridley. Directed by Evening Standard Award nominee and Fringe First winner David Mercatali.
Dates: 8th November – 3rd December 2016
Running Time: 80 mins, No Interval
Age Recommendation: 14+