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Tonight with Donny Stixx

Sean Michael Verey in Tonight With Donny Stixx Sean Michael Verey in Tonight With Donny Stixx

David Mercatali likes to make his actors sweat. He coaxes the most intense performances from them: bodily, feverish, consuming performances that leave their skin gleaming and their faces flushed.

Reuniting the creative team behind Philip Ridley’s 2012 play Dark Vanilla Jungle, this is a companion piece of sorts. But whereas the former play told the story of a disturbed teenage girl, this time it’s a damaged young man with dreams of being a famous magician. Once again, Mercatali places his performer on a bare black stage: no set, no props, nothing behind which an actor can hide.

Sean Michael Verey’s convincingly adolescent Donny is both sweetly puppyish and alarmingly volatile. He is prone to rages, convulsed by them, veins pulsing, cheeks pinking. But between the explosions are moments of control. You can see him holding things back, holding them in, hitting some internal reset button. It’s not as distressing a piece of writing as Dark Vanilla Jungle – there’s far more of the tar-dark humour of Ridley’s recent comedy Radiant Vermin; Donny’s trajectory is also a not an entirely unfamiliar one, the socially alienated young man who finally snaps, but it’s gripping piece of writing all the same and Verey’s performance is really quite something: funny, focused and queasily captivating.

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Philip Ridley’s intense, powerfully performed follow-up to Dark Vanilla Jungle