Move over Fran Drescher (or Nanny McPhee), there’s a new Manny in town. One of the newest shows coming to The King’s Head Theatre is “The Manny.” It's a dark comedy about a male Nanny navigating relationships, masculinity, social expectations, and finding a bratty right-winged 7-year-old who’s too good at hide-and-seek.
You might know him from his screen work in BBC’s Lady in the Van and Holby City, and two world tours with international theatre company Cheek by Jowl. Now, Sam McArdle is trying his hand at playwrighting with his King’s Head Theatre debut of his one-man dark comedy, The Manny. Behind the laughs, jokes, and nonchalant charm of the main character, The Manny takes a dive into the all too real anxieties and pressures of social expectations, dating, toxic masculinity, and mental health, all the while bursting the audience into fits of laughter. To uncover more on the making of The Manny, I sat down with its creator, writer, producer, and star Sam McArdle.
It’s amazing to see The Manny grow. You started writing and producing a show by yourself, and now you’re at The King’s Head with a whole team behind it. But take us back, how is it going from the man in front of the camera reading someone else’s work to bringing your own piece to life?
It’s been such a buzz doing it! It's just been so much fun. It made me really, really happy to create it.
As my actor friends Brian Martin and Sam McMullen -who are advising me on organizing and running the fundraiser campaign - said so succinctly, “When you’re creating your own work, you feel, as an artist, really fulfilled.” You don’t have the horrible reality of being an actor waiting by the phone, waiting for someone to give you the validation to be creative. Instead, I’m validating my own creativity and forging my own opportunities.
I haven’t felt this excited since the week after my first theatre show in drama school. We did a play called Toast and I was very fortunate to get my agent after it. That was… ten years ago! It seemed like the start of a big adventure- which it was, full of highs and lows! But it’s led me here, so I’m grateful for that.
With The Manny, I was really pleasantly surprised with how well its first run went and how it’s built momentum. I connected with Mark Ravenhill, one of my favourite playwrights of all time and whose work I grew up reading. I had a few chats with his production team, and now we’re putting on The Manny in his theatre – The King’s Head.
I owe so much to so many people along the way. Now, I’m just really, really excited. Still a lot of work to do, but I feel really blessed.
How have you grown and changed as a creative in putting together The Manny?
I'd like to think that I've picked up some good business skills as a producer. I feel like a project manager.
From coordinating the posters with Becca Minar, Jasper Tielbeke, and Johnny Murphy to working on the marketing assets- thanks to James Carrigan and Donald Gallery who shot the footage-, from fundraising to coordinating contracts and the production team at The King’s Head. And, then fine-tuning the script and producing everything else.
It just takes a village to put on a play. I have Charlie Smith, who is an amazing sound designer and who I went to Guildhall with, Melanie Fullbrook, an incredible director also from Guildhall, Can Bitirim, a fantastic lighting designer, and Aeron James, who’s our PR manager. We have Neil Morrissey, probably best known from Men Behaving Badly, who is a champion of the show. Peter Moreton, who I worked with at Cheek By Jowl and another Guildhall alum, has been fantastic with fundraising advice.
It takes a lot of people to put on a show like this, and it’s only a one-man show! It makes me think what was Hamilton like to put on?! It’s been full-on. I’m drinking a lot of coffee.
And speaking of fundraising, we were raising £3,000 grand and surpassed that goal by over 30%.
That’s amazing, congrats! What were some of your inspirations in creating The Manny? Many of the stories are based on your experiences of being an actual Manny.
When I was a male nanny years ago, the first questions people asked were “did you get with the Mums?”, “what were they like?” And obviously, I never did.
Still, I remember a date in drama school. She asked me what was my job like, as a male nanny. I told her that I basically pick the kids up from school, take them home, maybe play a bit of WWE with them, cook them food, help them with their homework, watch some TV, happy days. She was like “Oh! That’s really cute!”
After that date on the bus home, I just started thinking, imagine this guy who used his job, as a nanny, to build himself up on dates to hook up with girls. Imagine we juxtapose him using these “sweet” chat-up lines about his job with the kids, but he’s actually a crap nanny. He can barely cook and doesn’t care about the kids. I always had this thought in my head.
Now a few years go by, and I hit a rough patch. I lost my confidence, both personally and as an actor. I felt disassociated from my friends, I felt alone in a big city, I felt my life passing me by. I wanted to find a way to explore those themes in a way that’s digestible for an audience, and I just kept coming back to “The Manny”.
One day, I started writing. First, it was 10 minutes a day, then 20 minutes, and so on, and so on. Soon, I had the bare bones of a script. I did a reading with friends in December 2020. From there, my friend Dinita Gohil, from my years in drama school, helped me put on a scratch night of the play at the Cavern Tavern.
It was my first time acting in 4 years! I wanted to prove that I could still do it. Boy, I felt like Rocky in the run-up to it. Training and constantly running up those steps.
But afterwards, I felt so charged! I wanted to take the show further, expand it with better lights, better sound, better production, better everything! As fate would have it, I am putting it on in the theatre where I had my last in-person audition three years ago- The King’s Head!
After writing The Manny, what are your favorite pick-up lines?
Oh wow, pick-up lines?! I don't use pick up lines, but I should probably start using my nephew a bit more shouldn't I?
But, seriously, I don't really like using pick up lines. I don't think pickup lines work. I always ask, “Hey, how are you getting on?” I honestly think it's just the easiest way to initiate the conversation.
Besides having a good time, what do you want the audience to takeaway from The Manny?
Hopefully, they laugh. If they don’t, then we’re in trouble.
But in seriousness, I hope they enjoy themselves and it makes them think differently. I hope it them encourages to check in on how their friends are really doing and think differently about how people present themselves on social media and dating apps.
Catch Sam’s play “The Manny” at The King’s Head from the 10th -14 of January 2023. You can purchase tickets on The King’s Head website.