Sean Michael Verey is in a sky blue tee and jeans, which are at odds with what we know is coming. He’s Donny Stixx, the boy with tricks. He looks normal. He looks like a normal teenager. He doesn’t look like a killer.
In this monologue Verey has sudden eruptions of anger, imagining heckles and reproaches from audience members about the killing spree. I don’t think he’s talking to anyone. There’s a fine line between the voices being consciously in his head, or unconsciously. Is he inventing them deliberately or are they always there?
There’s a sort of epilogue that suggests Donny is talking to a therapist; maybe that’s true for the final minutes, but I think for the rest of the play it’s up to us to determine the context: where is he, who is he addressing?
Everything about Verey’s performance is heightened, overdone. There’s too much expression in his voice, too much gesture. That’s not a criticism: it really works. He’s like a child spewing the on-and-on of a ‘what I did on my holiday’ assignment for primary school. There’s no let up, barely a pause for breath, and a great deal of pride.
He’s a complex character, so certain of his ability at performing magic tricks, so blind to his own faults, so harsh and cutting about the faults of others. He craves compliments. He comes out with strange adult turns of phrase that he must have picked up from the people around him.
It’s clear that he’s also on the autistic spectrum, and though a product of the wild and fantastical mind of Philip Ridley, a mind whose output is so distinct that it often seems to exist on a different plane or in a different dimension, there is a lot that’s identifiably ‘real’ in Donny’s autistic personality.
Although Donny tells us at the beginning that he’s killed people, we still laugh at him and at Verey’s characterisation. Why? Because it’s so far removed from reality, a grotesquely imagined piece of fantasy from Ridley? Because it’s just a play? Or because he says and does funny things, and that’s what people do: they laugh at other people?
It becomes clear that it’s precisely the unpredictability of audience response and responsibility that the play is questioning. We each get to decide how to react to Donny: laugh, sympathise, hate. And none of those reactions has to be exclusive. Sympathy can come with laughter, and that laughter might be cruel or it might be kind. When videos of Donny appear online, it’s worse. The anonymity of comments sections means that anything goes, any extent of ridicule or cruelty.
It’s a provocation, then, for each of us to examine the way we respond to tragic figures and to tragedy. Whether we choose to be cruel or to be kind.