The Ridleys – Peacock (Abbey) Theatre – Review by Frank L.
Tonight with Donny Stixx and Dark Vanilla Jungle written by Philip Ridley
Until January 26th, 2019
Photos by Ste Murray
Both of these plays are monologues which last for approximately an hour and a quarter each. Donny in “Tonight with Donny Stixx” is performed by Rex Ryan and Andrea in “Dark Vanilla Jungle” by Katie Honan. They are companion pieces even though “Dark Vanilla Jungle” (2012) preceded “Tonight with Donny Stixx” by three years. The two plays share the same set (designed by Naomi Faughnan) which consists of two receding walls that create a sense of incarceration with the audience creating the fourth side. Ridley states in the programme notes that “[he thinks] Andrea and Donny … are in some kind of juvenile detention centre or prison… on this particular occasion, they have asked to be allowed to tell their stories in their own way. And that’s what we watch.”
First up is Donny who believes he will find fame through being a solo entertainer as a magician but his less than privileged background, exacerbated by a club foot, has held him back and deprived him of the success he craved. In addition, his own behaviour has made him a figure of hate on social media. Ridley’s text is very dense and demands a machine-gun fast delivery. There is no hanging about, but the moods range from being a stand-up stage performer to uncontrolled torrents of words delivered with abusive venom. However, it also contains, on occasions, a considerable amount of humour which leavens the darker side. What stands out is the mastery of Ryan of the text. There is a vast amount of words to be delivered and he never misses a beat. The sense of awe at his performance is what dominates.
Fifteen year old Andrea in Dark Vanilla Jungle does not appear to possess much ambition at all. Her mother has disappeared from her life and Mrs V, her grandmother, appears to be the only adult presence. Sharp-eyed 23 year old Tyrone easily spots her vulnerability in a McDonalds where she is eating with a friend. She is swept off her feet until the reality of Tyrone manifests itself. It is a downward path. Honan, like Ryan, has a similar gargantuan role to play but the text has very little humour which presents a great challenge for Honan to vary the tone which she does manage. In addition, there is a small amount of singing which also helps in the alteration of mood. Again, Ridley presents a profound challenge to the actor playing Andrea and Honan rises to it.
Both plays are demanding of the audience. The decision to perform both on the one night is expecting a great deal of the audience. It might have been wiser to have shown each play on alternate nights. That said, Theatre Upstairs, who work tirelessly for young actors and new writing, are entitled to take a bow for producing the Irish premieres of these two plays. But above all, Ryan and Honan are entitled to be immensely proud of their performances of these demanding and challenging texts.
Cast: Katie Honan
Cast: Rex Ryan
Writer: Philip Ridley
Director: Karl Shiels
Set Design: Naomi Rossini
Lighting Design: Eoin Byrne
Sound Design: Derek Conaghy
Producer: Laura Honan
Producer: TV Honan
Photography: Keith Dixon