Is shyness an affliction? Or, in a world where we compulsively expose our inner selves to strangers on a daily basis, can it be a radical act? Michael Ross’ The Shy Manifesto has some interesting ideas at its core, even if it never really gets to grips with them. Its teenage protagonist’s lobbying for shyness is less a philosophical act, more a cover for sexual confusion and social anxiety.
Tightly directed by Cat Robey, this compact and often very funny show is a bittersweet examination of growing up in the social media age, centred on a compelling Theo Ancient (previously Albus Potter in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child). Charlotte Henery’s design is wittily utilised: blinds are closed to the world outside, other characters reduced to simple props, as you sense they actually are to Callum, wrapped up in his self-absorption – an arty scarf, a prissy handbag; his classmates a handful of Star Wars and superhero action figures.
It’s impressive for such a young actor to be able to carry a one-man show, but Ancient manages it with aplomb. His performance as an angsty teen can’t be faulted, even if Ross’ deliberately mannered script, while containing some cracking lines, occasionally starts to grate.
However, your tolerance for the piece is likely heavily dictated by whether you find its self-dramatising protagonist endearingly gauche or tediously arch; whether you see his (oft-denied) superiority complex and his sneering at his more conventionally social peers as a forgivable construct to cover his own insecurity, or just insufferably smug.