Venue: Pleasance Courtyard
If Del-Boy trotter ever had a hankering for show-business, the result would surely match the cheerfully choppy tones and excitable movements of Donny Stixx. He points a finger, practically doubling over in the process, “What was that madam? What’s my favourite performance? Now that is a good question”, and as his voice is strikingly similar to Rodney’s mentor, a sly “mange tout” (Del-boy lingo for ‘my pleasure’) wouldn’t go amiss. Instead, there’s a vocal costume change and actor Sean Michael Verey re-emerges as the socially vacant monomaniac; a younger voice, a less audacious tone. Incidentally the two people are the same and it’s clear Donny Stixx has a habit of putting on a jovial front, perhaps inspired by his childhood nickname: ‘Donny-Boy’, but the veneer can’t last for long.
Philip Ridley’s script is at all levels devastating and sensationally good: mapping the life of an agonised soul in the only way possible. The roads cross, dead ends divide and no-one’s entirely certain which way is up as Donny reimagines fitful episodes of his experience while trying to articulate the answers to questions only he has asked. Trapped and suffering from extreme paranoia, he can do little but flutter around the stage and beg for better suited lighting but if anything can confirm his madness, it’s the blank faces of the stage team. The bright lights stay on. With nowhere to hide, his deterioration takes place in plain sight, all the better to see every character Verey can produce in his efforts to endow a one-man play with 7 or 8 people and a cast of half-imagined demons: the ones inside Donny’s head that no-one can see, but that are as clear as day thanks to the careful hand of director David Mercatali.
Humour doesn’t take a side-line in all this fast-paced transitioning and dense subject matter because laughter is what makes it all the more tragic. Young Donny is wonderfully naive and won’t fail to elicit laughs as his initial impressions are brought back into the light by his later-life self, “who could sleep in that much scarlet?” he says, a disgusted reaction to his Aunt’s bedding. A painful eye for detail also prompts him to list people’s ailments humorously as he introduces them to the audience. His own defects follow in all their nauseating cacophony as the picture of him as an obsessive, self-admiring fool becomes clearer… and yet you’d have to be stone-hearted not to feel some sympathy for the “boy with tricks”. If allowed, Freudians would have a field day on Donny, with reams of childhood trauma, a grotesque apotheosis of his mother and a blatant social disorder tugging at the frayed edges of his garish magician’s costume which “feels like a new skin, it feels like my real skin”.
A masterful performance by an actor who seems to own his lines give this play an unrelenting energy and a brilliantly weighted plot ensures that the audience is always uncertain of what lays round the corner, with the exception of the conclusion; an inevitable tragedy that you’d pay to avoid.