How often have you heard “He’s a bit on the shy side.” “She doesn’t say much does she..?” Directed by Cat Robey, Michael Ross’ The Shy Manifesto looks at the way the world treats people who are quiet and what is really going on in their minds. Callum (Theo Ancient) is a 17-year-old-boy who lives in Bournemouth. As far back as he can remember, adults have been critical of his prospensity to not be talkative. Whatever misgiving his parents may have had with his ‘development’, a gauche ‘family friend’ does her best to reiterate how much of a ‘problem’ Callum has with his ‘social skills’. Of course as the audience, we see that Callum isn’t the person who needs a good talking to. But time and time again we hear how his choice to not be rude or stick up for himself is interpreted as his acquiescence.
One of the lines that I thought was quite perceptive was how many world leaders who have gone to war (or serial killers for that matter) could have been said to be ‘shy’. None. Yet being talkative, impulsive and showing little restraint is deemed a healthy way to be.
At school, Callum has something of a ‘pariah’ status – something he doesn’t mind at all and quite relishes. There is another girl at school whose asceticism to being ‘withdrawn’ is even more pronounced than his. However, for the most part Callum finds his sense of ‘belonging’ and ‘community’ through like-minded people on Twitter.
Callum’s vocabulary throughout the play is well-developed, ranging from Latin to pop culture references and everything in between – proof that he chooses where and with whom to be articulate. However, the arrival of “arch nemesis” David ‘Gilby’ Gilbert proves to be the undoing of Callum’s ‘hard-earned’ reputation, forever changing the way his classmates look at him.
It has to be said that there are occasions where Callum is shown to be an ‘unreliable narrator’. The first time it occurs, we have no reason to doubt him. However, later on his recollection of the facts and his interpretation of the events don’t quite add up. This isn’t to say that he is ‘lying’. Rather, as extensive as his self-awareness is, there are some things about himself where he is in denial.
For the most part, Callum as a character coaxes trust from the audience with his pragmatic way of looking at things. Not that he tries to ‘wow’ the audience with charisma, but he eloquently points out things we know to be true but seldom put into words. The use of toys and other objects around Callum’s room to represent the people he talks about is a nice touch. Of course this could be interpreted as how ‘abstract’ or superficial his relationships with them are.
I don’t often talk about light and sound design in shows, but in the case of this play, the impact that Charle Morgan Jones and Alistair Lax respectively contributed to this production really fleshed out the nuances of the script and performance.
It’s with great sadness that I must mention that Michael Ross – the author of this play – died on the 23rd January this year, after a short battle with an aggressive form of cancer. I never knew him personally (save on Twitter), but in recent years while I’ve been reviewing, his plays have been appreciated by critics and public alike. His talent and unique way of looking at the world will be sorely missed.
© Michael Davis 2019
The Shy Manifesto ran at Greenwich Theatre from 1st to 3rd February 2019. It continues its tour at these venues:
The Old Court, Windsor
6 – 7 February
The Place, Bedford
The Hawth, Crawley
Trinity Arts Centre, Gainsborough
The Met, Manchester
15 – 16 February
Alma Tavern & Theatre, Bristol
The Marlowe, Canterbury
Guildford’s Yvonne Arnaud Theatre
22 – 23 February
The Old Joint Stock Theatre, Birmingham
25 – 26 February
Theatre Clwyd, Flintshire
The Core Theatre, Solihull
Arena Theatre, Wolverhampton
The Hazlitt Theatre, Maidstone