Tonight with Donny Stixx at The Bunker
“Donny Stixx Broke My Heart”: a message scrawled on the toilet door in a purple felt tip provided by The Bunker and an ominous warning for spectators preparing to take their seats for Philip Ridley’s Tonight with Donny Stixx. The stage is bare and It’s Raining Men (a curious pre-show musical choice) is being played loudly into the auditorium, until one young man enters the room, slowly and awkwardly, and all turns to silence. Donny Stixx. His instantaneous switch from timid boy to enthusiastic entertainer demands the full attention of the audience as Ridley’s monologue begins and the story of the troubled teenager starts to unfold.
Donny is a boy born with club foot to a mother with a mental health illness and a cruel intolerance to all things imperfect. Despite this, Donny rejects his caring father and turns his full attention to pleasing his mother until her suicide leads to him going to live with his aunt. She encourages him to start performing with the magic set his father once gave him and he believes he has found his calling, becoming obsessed with perfecting the performances he gives in the local community. What he doesn’t realise for a long time is that his shows are not being as well received as he thinks. All this is revealed to theatregoers as a series of memories described by Donny at a point in his life just after he has committed a horrific act of terror. But rather than begging for forgiveness, he revels in the opportunity to have found fame and enjoys being able to go on stage to recount his life and biggest achievements.
The piece is difficult to watch, with Sean Michael Verey providing a hypnotising performance in the role of Donny. A hub of energy, Verey encapsulates the inner turmoil of the young protagonist and is exhausting to behold as he portrays his character’s frantic deterioration. Originally presented to sell-out audiences at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the actor ensures that the show’s transfer to the London stage is hugely successful.
Donny is presented as a boy who desperately needs love and support but instead receives ridicule and embarrassed laughter and so remains tragically alone. He wants to be famous but he also just wants to be heard and understood; it is the absence of this understanding that provokes a deep sentiment of audience sympathy for the boy regardless of what he has done. The play thus effectively highlights the worrying ignorance surrounding mental health in today’s society and the dark consequences that can arise if attitudes don’t start to change. Donny Stixx doesn’t just break hearts, he wrenches them from the chest and demands that they beat to a new rhythm. A harrowing watch, it is crucial that Tonight with Donny Stixx reaches as many people as possible.
Tonight with Donny Stixx is at The Bunker from 8th November until 3rd December 2016, for further information or to book visit here.