Y Viva Espana – Oliver Harrison on performing Manuel, growing up in Spain and returning in character

Oliver Harrison

Sometimes we don’t talk too much about the international nature of what we do at ITI. Our shows travel all around the world, finding fans of the show in every corner! This year we have bounced around a few exotic locales including Ireland, Norway, Antigua, Singapore and Papua New Guinea. And in November we’re heading to Mijas Costa in Málaga and Gibraltar for an exclusive short-run. Our own Oliver Harrison will be there playing Manuel.

Signor Baffo at Edinburgh Fringe pie fight 2018

Oliver Harrison has been working with ITI for four years. Initially jumping on board as one of our much-loved Manuels, Olly has slowly been expanding his work with us – performing with Confetti & Chaos (formerly The Wedding Reception) for a few years, and just recently by adding his charming children’s show, Signor Baffo’s Restaurant, to the ITI line-up.

Olly was raised in Spain and this year – for the first time – he is taking his Manuel to Gibraltar and Málaga. We asked Olly to share a few words with ITI’s Caitlin Page about his Spanish childhood and his feelings on returning.

Manuel catching the action

Caitlin: Hi Olly! Let’s start with some easy stuff: tell us a bit about you – what does your theatrical background look like?

Olly: I trained at the Italia Conti Academy of Theatre Arts early on. After, I went on to professional training with amazing comedic and clown experts like Philippe Gaulier, Spymonkey, Dr Brown and Mick Barnfather. I’d say I specialise in comedy – both in a devised and physical sense.

Obviously, I perform as Manuel for Faulty Towers The Dining Experience, which I love. I also have my own children’s show, Signor Baffo’s Restaurant. I love that show. It bubbles over with energy! I play a hapless chef who creates chaos in the kitchen when he is left to his own devices. ITI worked with me to take it to Edinburgh Fringe this year and it went brilliantly.

I guess that’s the brief summary, though there’s lots more, of course!

C: How did you come to live in Spain?

O: My family moved there when I was 2. They were searching for a place in the sun and a more carefree lifestyle… and they found it. I grew up in Estepona and went to English International College in Marbella (EIC) – one of the many international schools in the area. They had a strong drama department there. At that time, Gibraltar was they key place to go to get all British commodities like Marmite and Cheddar, so we used to go fairly regularly. Now you can get that stuff everywhere!

C: Now you live in Brighton with your young daughter and wife – is there anything that you miss about living in Spain?

O: I’d say the weather, mainly, and the lack of urgency. Certainly in the south of Spain, there is a really laid-back approach to life that I think is lost when living in the UK. The classic Andaluz saying is “mañana”, which means tomorrow.

C: What makes you excited about performing in Spain on this upcoming mini-tour?

O: It feels great to be performing in the place where I grew up. My passion for theatre started in my teens and it is exciting to come back and perform in the environment I grew up in. I did my first professional play with David Dunkley who was my drama teacher. They had a company that did Supper Theatre, where people watched a play while eating dinner. So on

the face of it somewhat similar to what we do, but actually very different. Now I come back there performing in immersive dining theatre. It feels full circle, in a way.

C: Oh wow! Did performing in the Supper Theatre prepare you for performing in a show like Faulty Towers The Dining Experience where the environment is more immersive?

O: Absolutely not! It is a completely different beast. What we were doing back then was very much conventional theatre fully equipped with a fourth wall. But in Faulty we are among the audience and we address them directly and they are part of the performance. Nothing can really prepare you for that other then just doing it.

C: Do you know much about Spanish theatre? What are the differences between UK theatre and Spanish theatre?

O: To be completely honest I have never really seen Spanish theatre. I am sure it is very rich, but growing up amongst ex-pats on the Costa del Sol, I didn’t really have the opportunity to be exposed to it.

C: That makes total sense. Do the Spanish like the show – and will you have to change Manuel’s place of birth?? Who do you think your audiences will be?

O: I am not sure that they do. I have never met a Spaniard that has seen the BBC’s original show. I do know it was popular in Catalunya but they tweaked it. I believe it was translated into Spanish and they made Manuel from Napoli instead of Barcelona. Ultimately, slapstick and farcical comedy is universal as long as you know your audience. But I do think we will be playing on the Costa mainly to ex-pats, and of course Gibraltarians who speak English fluently in any case.

 

Baffo got pied

C: Do you think your experience of growing up in Spain influences the way you play Manuel?

 

O: It’s possible. Though I always try to refer back to Andrew Sachs’ interpretation of the character rather than ‘try to make him my own’. But it certainly is an advantage to know the language as there are often Spanish speakers in the audience – as there will undoubtedly be in the November shows! – so my background does help.

C: What is your favourite part about playing Manuel?

O: The fact the audience loves him, before he even arrives. The audience feels they have a relationship with him and they know the character so well. So as long as I am playing him convincingly, then the audience are happy and I am happy.

C: OK! Last question. I know you are a theatre maker and collaborator at heart, so is there a topic you wish you could explore and make a show out of, but haven’t had the chance yet?

O: haven’t made any new work over the last couple of years but I can sense that over the next year I will begin to explore material for a new piece. I have no idea what that will be yet, but I feel that it is likely to be inspired by my relationship with my daughter and in general the feelings that arise from the responsibility of raising a daughter in today’s world.

C: Wow. I am looking forward to that one! Thanks so much for speaking with me.

 

That’s all we have for you this time friends. We hope you enjoy getting to know our team as much as we enjoy sharing it!

If you’re in Málaga or Gibraltar between 2 and 4 November and hope to catch Faulty Towers The Dining Experience with Olly’s wonderful Manuel in tow, you can hit this link to get all the details.

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