We walk through the door, take our seats and look out on a bare stage. We are here to see a show, and Donny is determined to give us one. This teenage magician’s desire is to be famous; to fly to superstardom at any cost will push him far past the point of fame, over the edge into infamy.
Phillip Ridley’s play is a fearless. It’s an ever so blackly comic beast. Donny is here to tell us about his life’s milestones: his greatest performance, his first show, no matter whether we asked or not. By now he has achieved his fame and over the hour and twenty minutes, we are with him to discover why and how. Broadly, the monologue can be split between the then and the now, structurally comparable with Nicholas Winding Refn’s Bronson. The then is a series of flashbacks through childhood. The now is an all smiles ‘An Audience with…’ style show where our protagonist will play both host and guest. However, this glamorous façade piece by piece begins to crack, a repetition here, a spat of rage here, all hiding the act that deems him ‘The Most Hated Kid Alive’. Ridley has gifted an actor with one hell of a role, and Sean Michael Verey fires in with aplomb.
As the titular character, Verey flits and darts between ages and characters. He plays Donny and all of those around him, from a mother afraid of anything ‘imperfect’ to the not-so-glamorous assistant Sharmi, one “not made for multiple angles.” Verey moves with clarity, defining each with a clear voice and characterisation that never loses focus. His Donny is fascinating, capable of instant explosions, but full of childlike curiosity at the simplest of human acts. It is a wonderful performance in a piece that demands so much. In Director David Mercatali, Ridley’s works have found a natural brother, and his minimalistic production is clear and precise, gliding between all out momentum and controlled calm.
The tension in this production, one that should rise from your feet until tugging around your windpipe, ends up developing in peaks and troughs. The first half grips around you tight, but later this hold begins to slip. A slightly forced confrontation between Donny and his local hero seems contrived. Later, the ambition of an everlasting legacy, as opposed to a single show comes slightly too late to fully drive home its motivation. There is a tragedy in this character though, one who has been forced to overcome so much, that there can only be one way to achieve all that he wishes.
As the lights snap to black we are left in a mix of sympathy and horror, calming ourselves after a gripping silent finale. Ultimately, Tonight with Donny Stixx is a superbly performed study of celebrity and our obsession with fame.
Tonight with Donny Stixx is playing at The Bunker Theatre until 3 December. For more information and tickets, see The Bunker Theatre website.