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Hannah Winspear-Schillings | February 9, 2022

Written by Michael Ross and directed by Gavin Roach, the Australian premiere of The Shy Manifesto opened in Melbourne as part of Midsumma Festival. British playwright Michael Ross has enjoyed a string of accolades in the UK, including being shortlisted for the 2014 Off West End Adopt a Playwright Award.

Upon walking in to The Bluestone Church Arts Space in Footscray, I was struck by the size of the performance space. Situated in a relatively unassuming church hall, there were no elaborate sets or backdrops to give any indication as to how The Shy Manifesto would unfold. The only sign that this was indeed a play and not, say, a council meeting, were two lights on trusses at the back, throwing a warm shade of pink over the audience.

In defiance of its venue’s size, The Shy Manifesto greeted a surprisingly robust audience, and for good reason. The show is presented as a solo monologue, and Jake Matricardi delivers an utterly arresting performance. He plays Callum, a proudly shy person, who rebels against the conscriptions of a loud, extroverted society. Despite how vehemently Callum insists that other people shun him, we as the audience can’t help but find him likeable. Matricardi is a charismatic actor, armed with Ross’ beautiful turn of phrase and with an air of Hugh Grant about him, his performance makes Callum a charming character, for all his quirks and foibles.

Callum is dry-humoured, eloquent, and articulate; over the course of the hour, Matricardi didn’t stumble over a single word. Callum recounts amusing anecdotes about the times various people tried forcing him out of his skin, including his aunt Libby the “ruthless character assassin”, and his Drama teacher Ms Cherry, who tried to convince him that “all the best actors were shy people”. Callum derides these attempts, unable to believe or accept that people could be interested in having him around. The self-referential irony interwoven throughout the play enables us to clearly see the cracks in Callum’s shy sheathing.

Callum takes great pride in his social exclusion, revels in his anonymity, and gathers his self-professed shyness around him like armour. The arrival of a new kid at school, David ‘Gilby’ Gilbert, threatens shake the very foundations of Callum’s existence as a “fundamentalist shy separatist”. While his entire year level dismisses him, Gilby, to his horror, is nice to him. Why would this boy be nice to him, Callum frets. Matricardi deftly navigates the emotional range of a shy, overwhelmed teenage boy grappling with his sexuality, as we as an audience see exactly where Callum’s self-imposed shy lifestyle leads. His preoccupation with Gilby leads to a chain of events which culminates in Callum revealing more about himself than he ever wanted to.

Ross, Matricardi, and director Gavin Roach masterfully manipulate complex themes surrounding identity, coming of age, and coming out, in a perfect little gem of a production. As an audience, we can see that shyness, in Callum’s case, is not so much a choice as a defence strategy, a manifestation of his anxiety. Callum grapples with coming to terms with himself and his identity. The play culminates in a bittersweet ending, as what began as a manifesto is gradually revealed to be more of a self-imposed exile.

The Shy Manifesto by Michael Ross– the Australian Premiere
Director: Gavin Roach
Performer: Jake Matricardi
Venue: Bluestone Church Arts Space, 8A Hyde St, Footscray VIC 3011
Dates & Time: Tuesday 1st – Saturday 5th February 6:30pm

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