In the days before I caught Tonight with Donny Stixx, the world has felt a little darker. The combination of recent global events and the pathetic fallacy of longer, colder nights has made the harsh edges of the world more pronounced. Now more than ever, there is little doubt that we live in a world where hate, cruelty and apathy can sometimes reign supreme, and it’s just these forces that Phillip Ridley and company wrestle with in Tonight with Donny Stixx. It’s a murky, unsettling monologue in the vein of Dark Vanilla Jungle, charting the breakdown of an unhinged young man too enamoured with the spotlight to see his own flaws or the bubbling undercurrent of malevolence just below his showbiz surface. Remind you of anyone?
Yes, admittedly even if Exeunt had sent me to review a panto or Frozen on Ice this week I would have made it about Trump, but the comparison here does feel justified. There is much to dislike in the character of Donny Stixx. There is much to ridicule and there is much to fear. The reaction that we choose, therefore, is vital. Though it might feel a touch clichéd, deep down he’s just a frightened, broken little boy, hungry for a certain kind of affection. He’s divorced from reality, cushioned from his failings in an echo chamber of his own construction.
Sean Michael Verey’s performance is a visceral, sometimes uncomfortable litmus test of audience reaction. Some of his outbursts ran cold, some produced laugh riots. There is more than a touch of The Curious Incident’s Christopher about him, and I have my own suspicions about simplistic stage interpretations of autism, but that is perhaps a discussion for a less inflammatory week. What Donny’s character, and indeed Verey’s performance ultimately comes down to, is a wrestle between empathy and hatred, a potent struggle at a time when disgust and ridicule towards a particular presidential candidate only sharpened his teeth and gave legitimacy to his grievances. This week, Tonight with Donny Stixx feels like a love letter to empathy in the face of darkness.
In some respects, the play doesn’t always work: swathes of story are left untold and the gears of certain narrative devices can be heard grinding somewhere in the background towards the end. The play tries half-heartedly to engage in internet culture without bringing anything significant to the conversation. But Donny is a fully realised animal; a contradictory, thought-provoking question mark that baffles us, amuses us, frightens us.
Tonight with Donny Stixx is on until 3rd December 2016 at The Bunker. Click here for more details.