This wonderful monologue from Michael Ross is on a national tour. Let’s hope the play is showing near you as attendance is thoroughly recommended. It’s part-presentation, akin to a school debate, and also a tender story about youth that’s full of topical relevance. The trials – and joys – of being shy become moving, thought-provoking and funny in a brilliant script.
The production is a bitter-sweet triumph because of its author’s sudden death from cancer this year. While the show is hugely enjoyable, it’s hard not to regret future works we are now deprived of. That Ross missed seeing the show performed is cruel. That those involved have done such a good job is of some consolation.
With The Shy Manifesto’s hero, Callum, Ross has written a fine creation who works well theatrically and makes a great role for Theo Ancient. It’s impossible not to warm to this keen-to-quote teen, who Ancient makes such a charming, flawed figure. Engendering complicity with the audience from the start, Callum’s world view is engrossing, his insecurities and his fate at an end-of-term party affectingly emotional. Ancient moves from cowed moments to bold exuberance, as director Cat Robey paces the show expertly. Robey does particularly well in energising the script with complementary musical accompaniment and lighting. These skills combine to take us into Callum’s Bournemouth bedroom world completely, to make his worries our own and likewise his hopes for the future, be they to stay true to himself or to live around the corner from the British Museum.
Ross hasn’t just penned an unusually good teen drama. His writing reveals facts sometimes lost on our hero, which creates a delicious subtext for the audience. His crush on new boy Gilbert is just one example. It’s fascinating to explore the theme of ‘shycons’ (brilliant term) who are idolised by the introverted. And while evoking a young voice so expertly, there’s a spirit of individualism that should give pause whatever your age. Callum’s questions may be raised in a naïve fashion – he’s 17, after all – but that doesn’t make them less important. Ross uses a young narrator to point out what should be obvious, sometimes unacceptable, to all; and to challenge, frequently in a surprising fashion, some easily accepted assumptions.
Alongside this is a great comedy. Callum’s intellectual pretentions, including his contagious love of words, remind us not to take him too seriously, and it’s a talent to make the vocabulary hilarious all by itself. And the cast of extras we meet – each performed with the help of a single prop (with one notable exception) and seen only through Callum’s eyes – are all worth a joke or three. Ross was an accomplished craftsman and a distinctive voice, his writing full of compassion, intelligence and humour. The Shy Manifesto proclaims these qualities loudly.
On tour until 4 March 2019
Photo by Anthony Hollis