There’s something about a male nanny that immediately conjures up certain expectations. Performer and writer of The Manny, Sam McArdle, exploits these to superb comic effect but also mines beneath the surface to explore something altogether darker.
Sam names these assumptions from the off, playfully flirting with a member of the audience – while hilariously deconstructing his chat up lines in a series of asides. Whilst he oozes charm and confidence, there’s an inescapable underlying manipulation in his dealing with women on dating apps and with the wealthy mothers in West London who employ him to look after their children.
The main thrust of the narrative is focused around coming to work for a particular family. The wealthy mother Georgina is described as having loads of work done on the outside but none on the inside. The manny is to look after her young son, Michael. Despite his outwardly angelic appearance of blond hair and blue eyes, Michael’s Aryan tendencies run to wanting to be the Nazis when playing “army” with Sam. He even threatens “I’ll tell Mummy you touched me” to extract a few extra hours of telly watching! Despite the initial challenge, the bond between the two begins to grow.
An additional plotline sees the manny joining an improv group at a Sunday community class; the lure being Molly, a resting actress, who he poetically describes as having a “face that would send a thousand men off to Troy”. We see a friendship blossom between the two and the manny beginning to discover his authentic self.
As the drama deepens, young Michael’s dilemma how to win a girl in her school begins to parallel the manny’s attempts to convince Molly not to go to Australia with her boyfriend – both with suitably emotional results.
Sam McArdle’s impressive first script delivers plenty of sharp, well-observed, laugh-out-loud humour but this is no throwaway comedy. The Manny skillfully explores that crisis point that many people in their thirties reach. That urge to compare themselves to the apparent lifestyles of their contemporaries is placed under the microscope.
While his married mates might look enviously at his apparent freedom and success on dating apps, the manny has increasingly found himself isolated and lonely. The often-stated affirmation from his friends that they are always there for him is exposed as empty words. An increasing mental health struggle is subtly threaded through the play. He attends the Sunday class as he needs to fill up his weekends with activity, stating this it’s not his body that’s unclean. Later, there’s a reference to seeing red finger nail marks on the stressed Michael’s arms – something that’s all too familiar to himself. Revealing the underlying pain that belies the manny’s idealised jack-the-lad existence is subtly done and convincingly rings of truth.
Director Mel Fullbrook keeps the action moving at a brisk-but-never-rushed pace. She has Sam McArdle utilise every available space within the intimate and unusual shape of the King’s Head Theatre stage as he conjures the world of the manny. McArdle’s performance is superbly supported by Can Avni‘s evocative lighting design and Charlie Smith‘s busy-but-effective sound design.
This one-man show is a superb vehicle for his many talents. Sam McArdle offers a full-throttle performance but knows exactly when to slam on the brakes. He knows how to write and deliver a brilliant punchline but what lingers is the perhaps unexpected emotional blow of the piece. He peels back and exposes the manny’s vulnerability without a hint of melodrama. His acting chops are as well exercised in The Manny as his Athena-poster guns!
A vivid and engaging work that needs to have a life beyond this King’s Head Theatre run.
An entertaining and thought-provoking one-man show that deserves to be seen – ★★★★★ 5 stars from The Recs