Donal the Numb @ The Vaults

Donal the Numb by Ross White

Donal the Numb is a solo performance written and performed by Ross White. Donal (White) is from a small Northern Irish town, has a traditional family environment and a care free childhood. However, at the age of twelve he awakes to the realisation that he is numb. He can't feel pain, actually he can't feel anything, he is totally numb to everything and everyone.

We are introduced to Donal Casey as he races down the stairs of the auditorium, he is late for his own show. A story of how he became to be known as 'Donal the Numb'. Through the use of voicemail messages it becomes clear that a producer has managed to get Donal a slot to perform his show in London this March, and thinks that his story has great potential. Donal begins his tale, a young Northern Irish lad who is on his annual family caravan holiday. His father is hosting the Casey family talent show, opening the event with some religious puns, that summed up 'dad jokes' to a tee. His mother follows, she is a few glasses of wine in as she belts out a rendition of ABBA's 'Thank you for the music'. Her performance is trumped however, by Donal's older brother Eoin. Eoin embodies his hero Eminem and grunts out the lyrics of 'The real Slim Shady'. All of these characters and their performance are given such life and humour by White, who so comfortably portrays these Irish stereotypes. A true character actor who uses his skill to make the Casey family come to life in front of our very eyes.

Donal's childhood takes a dark twist as he begins secondary school, he is the target of bullies and his brother who he is so proud of, pretends Donal doesn't even exist as they pass in the school corridors. Donal's life is turned on its head, due to a freak event at the school sports day. Having been tripped up by one of the bullies whist taking part in the 100 metre sprint, he breaks his leg. The bone is sticking out, yet he feels nothing. Onlookers are amazed, and he becomes a global phenomenon. Every news outlet wants to tell the story of the boy who feels no pain. Instead of gaining popularity amongst his peers, he becomes the local freak. The bullies take pleasure in beating him profusely, all trying to be the first to make Donal feel pain. This leads to one of the more harrowing moments of the play. One afternoon instead of beating Donal they violently attack Eoin in front of his brother. Donal is watching his brother moan and bleed and yet feels nothing. The underplaying of this absence of emotion, must be commended. White's eyes glaze as Donal recalls the torture of his brother, as if he is watching it over in his head. Under Katie-Ann McDonough's direction, moments like these are truly breath-taking. 

And so, after a childhood of trauma and the internal battle of wanting to feel anything, Donal has moved to London by himself. Hoping that, by reliving his past in front of an audience it might spark the slightest of emotions. It is draining to see this young man, abandoned in the big city, away from home and alone. The turmoil that Donal's bizarre trait has caused follows him every day, and even though he is away from his home town, ghosts from history are round every corner. 

Donal the Numb is a triumph of story telling. It is Ross White's first credit as both writer and performer, and he is a tour-de-force. I have never been to the part of Ireland that is described in Donal's story, yet I left the theatre feeling that I had grown up there myself. A perfect show for this years Vaults Festival

4 stars

Reviewer: Corey Hennelly


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