On its opening night, The Manny has a slightly slow, perhaps nervous start. The Manny (Sam McArdle) is initially quiet and hard to hear. However, after a successful spot of audience interaction (an audience member clearly up for partaking in a faux-Tinder date) nerves are settled and the show blasts off with a lot of laughs. As The Manny updates us in asides on the progress of his date, it is a very funny insight into this narcissistic, shallow and perhaps not very likeable young man.
McArdle brings in two more characters. Michael is a seven-year-old who is way too interested in World War II. Perfectly timed sound effects (designed by Charlie Smith, operated by Can Avni) are an absolute treat, as The Manny recreates playing war with his young charge who, worryingly, insists on playing as the Nazis. Molly is a young actress who runs an am-dram group at the weekend, and is so beautiful that her face ‘could launch a thousand ships to Troy’. Naturally, The Manny falls for her instantly and joins the Sunday am-dram meetings.
There are layers to McArdle’s writing, and given his actual history of working as a manny it’s reasonable to expect that this is where his experience will come through on stage; that it will be the character of the manny which is a semi-autobiographical. However, it is when Molly talks of being put through the wringer with a once-promising acting career coming to a screeching halt, that we see McArdle reaching deeper and possibly reflecting that he may not have achieved all he expected with his acting career.
McArdle is funny, his comedic timing is excellent, including skillfully letting jokes sit with the audience. He makes good use of all the space in the King’s Head Theatre (under the direction of Mel Fullbrook), connecting widely with the audience, reaching for a guitar, adding an odd joke in a specific direction.
In a way, The Manny might have done itself a slight disservice with its marketing. It is a comedy and there are a lot of very good and loud laughs, but it is also a very personal piece which allows McArdle to address loneliness and isolation and the fear of vulnerability, in particular for young men. The Manny’s description of his group chat with mates, messages all read and blue ticked, yet without a response is quite poignant. There are hints of loneliness throughout as The Manny just swipes on his dating apps and sneaks out the emergency exit the next morning, finding nothing lasting, nothing with feeling. When the Manny reflects on the happiness of his friends who married and bought homes, bitterly wondering if they would pay more attention to him if he were to sleep with their wives, it is skilfully written and performed. Moments of poignancy sit alongside moments of comedy with ease.
Some of of the richness of this performance comes from knowing McArdle’s own backstory, which isn’t fully realised within the play or promotional material. As he spoke about in our recent interview, he has faced struggles as an actor which clearly assisted in how Molly was represented.
As the first night of a new play, this was excellent and was very well received by the audience who laughed a lot throughout. I’d happily recommend The Manny to all my friends in need of someone to help look after their little ones.
Writer & Producer: Sam McArdle
Director: Mel Fullbrook
Sound Designer: Charlie Smith
Lighting Designer: Can Avni
The Manny plays at King’s Head Theatre until 14 January. Further information and bookings can be found here.