So You Think You’re A Manny?

We talk to Sam McArdle about turning his years as a male nanny into a hit play.

Wrapping up the current tour of The Manny at The Whale on Friday, May 17th, we asked the man himself to chart the long and grinding road from down there all the way to up here…

Coming out of London’s King’s Head Theatre in January 2020, I had two things on my mind. Denise Gough, and how to get back home.

Denise was on my mind because she was one of my favourite actresses, and I was still thinking about her 2014 performance of People Places and Things, which I had queued up in the freezing cold in the hope of return seats – her rise to the top had happened after she had gone through a certain amount of trial and tribulation, and she also carried herself with the right amount of integrity, but also self-deprecation. And then there was “home”.

Which seemed a hard concept for me to get my head around. I was an Irish actor, from Dublin, who had recently moved back from London, after getting too many kicks to the groin in trying to make it as an actor. I found the years back home in Ireland incredibly frustrating. I was in my early 30s, highly anxious and devoid of the confidence I used to have. I just had my first audition in months from my agent, who (as kind as they were), were just about to drop me (my having not worked for over two years). I had worked on this audition day and night for three days, and completely fluffed the lines. As I stepped out into the crisp Islington sky, I let out a loud “Fuck!” into the air. I had blown it.

I had also recently taken on a 9-to-5 job, which although gave me the stability and routine that I craved, seemed to spell the end of my dream. I had nothing to show for my time in London, apart from a few theatre gigs and a weird job working as a male nanny in posh West London.

Then in March 2020, you-know-what happened, and the world ground to a halt.

I suddenly had a lot of free time on my hands, and started writing about my time ‘mannying’. More for therapy and a way to pass the time rather than anything else. I found myself unable to sleep one night and came across the sports documentary The Last Dance, covering Michael Jordan and his last season with the Chicago Bulls. I watched it with a little lump in my throat.

I used to have such focus and self-confidence when I first started out – I had gone to a great drama school in London, and had graduated with a huge agent – but now I had become highly anxious and unable to go easy on myself when I made any kind of mistake. I realised in going for what I really wanted I had lost the sense of fun that had led me to becoming an actor. It was like a light went off in my head (or like the scene from the Forks episode of The Bear, when Richie gets that phone call).

The next morning I threw out all the junk food in my kitchen and went for a run, went for a meditation, and then started writing. Five minutes a day, ten minutes a day, and then eventually built it up to a working script. I thought about that job as a manny, but now I also wanted to write about what I had gone through, that sense of feeling lost, of unrequited dreams, and the pressure I had put on myself to ‘make it’, whatever that had been to me.

Six months later, I had a script, and I decided to quit the only financially stable job I ever had, leave the life I had slowly built back up for myself, and move back to London. I put the show on in a mate’s pub, Christmas 2021, first time I had acted in over four years, and sold out a play reading of The Manny. We ended up bringing it back to King’s Head Theatre in January 2021 and selling out the exact same place where I had previously self-destructed.

But I wanted to come back to Dublin and put the show on there. Dublin will always be home, but I had felt a sense of failure that no one in my family or friends had ever seen me act there.

So I reached out to theatres, and with the help of a heaven-sent-angel in Olivia Morahan, managed to convince Smock Alley to let me put the show on in November 2023. We ended up selling out, as well as appearing on live TV and radio to promote the show.

Everything had come full circle and I finally found a way of expressing myself through art, giving myself the validation I had always sought – and now, hopefully, I could be easier on myself.

This year we’ve played our biggest London show, headlining The Pleasance Theatre in London, and selling out The Viking and Civic Theatre on an Irish tour.
We’re coming to The Whale for the final night, the final night of the tour. I’ve been fortunate enough to get representation, for the first time in four years, and I finally feel like going through the Antarctica of the last few years in my head was all worth it. I don’t know if we’ll get a chance to do the play again, so I’ve written a TV pilot, currently pitching it with all the subtlety and enthusiasm of a four-year-old chugging Diet Coke at his own birthday party.

I had been ‘that’ kind of actor in my 20s, waiting by the phone, waiting for someone to give me validation to be creative, and I was sick of it, of the emasculation. I wanted to take it back.

So now I’m here, in May 2024, with booked tickets to the 10-year anniversary of People, Places and Things, and with two things on my mind. Denise Gough, and the feeling that I had finally come home.

You can catch The Manny at The Whale on Friday, May 17th at 8pm – tickets here.



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