A taste of theater life: An interview with actor Philip Oakland

Meet Philip Oakland, a talented actor from Colchester, England, who shines as Manuel in "Faulty Towers: The Dining Experience" – a unique live dining experience based on the popular classic BBC series from 1975, currently playing at Lighthouse Arthouse Toronto. Philip's journey from a small town to the spotlight is an inspiring tale of passion and perseverance.

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Philip Oakland is a performer with a colorful array of roles under his belt, ranging from the hysterical hyena Ed in Disney’s ‘The Lion King’ to the mardy 1932 Fordson N Type Tractor in ‘These Things Do Happen’. His West End debut as Marcel Marceau in ‘The Vaudevillains’ showcased his versatility, and the opportunity to embody a speaking human being like Manuel in ‘Faulty Towers’ speaks volumes about his passion for theater.

Philip Oakland
Philip Oakland

When did you first realize that theatre was your calling, sparking the dream to pursue it as a career?

Philip: “I was 10 years old, the smallest in my class by just under half a foot, and the youngest by just over a year. The school put on a Victorian-style Old City Music Hall Variety show, with singing, dancing, and melodrama, and I got a lot of stage time. When I was on that stage, everyone had to listen to me, and I could make the entire audience, an audience of adults, laugh. I realized I had control of the whole room. That was power, and I was hooked.

I also remember driving up and down the east coast of the US in a 7-person Chrysler Voyager, with the cast, set, and costumes in the back, touring university campuses with a production of Macbeth (Most memorably Frostburg, Maryland, where the production was so popular that in direct violation of fire regulations, people were sitting in the aisles and the lighting gallery). And I clearly remember thinking if I can keep a roof over my head doing this for a living, then that would be a great way to spend my remaining 20,000 or so days left on the planet.”

What have been some significant milestones or turning points in your professional journey?

Philip: “On my last day at Peterhouse College, Cambridge, I was handed a piece of paper by my director of studies, Dr. Pattenden, who had noticed that during my 3 years there, my attention may have been distracted away from the Classics faculty and more towards the world of drama. On the paper were the names of 2 former Peterhouse students, whom Dr. Pattenden seemed to remember had gone on to work in the Arts. I ignored it, thinking I would make it on my own merit, that my abundance of talent would shine through. Going through old boxes of correspondence, I recently found that very piece of paper, and for the first time read the names: Simon McBurney, director of the physical theatre powerhouse – Theatre de Complicite, and Sam Mendes, director of, among others, 1917, Skyfall & American Beauty. Doh!

Then at drama school, I recall one of our directors, Jill Colby, telling me that I needed to find another profession. The urge to prove her wrong has driven me further than almost anything else.

The best review I ever got was for a piece of TIE (Theatre In Education). ‘I’ve just seen ‘Catch A Falling Star’ and thought it was better than Harry Potter.’ – Matthew, aged 6, Layston School.”

Most recently, this month in fact, ITI has paid me the greatest compliment any actor can receive; they are re-employing me.”

Philip Oakland
Philip Oakland

The show ‘Faulty Towers: The Dining Experience‘ opened in Toronto on Wednesday, March 6th, at Lighthouse Artspace Toronto. How do you prepare for your role as Manuel, especially with so much of the show being unscripted?

Philip: “When I started playing Manuel in 2016, I was apprehensive about all the improvisation, the need to be ready with material, to have funny things to say. But the more I have played Manuel, the more I have realized it is best to just listen and respond, to be ready and open, to follow rules from Improvisation games I played as a teenager: “Yes…And“ & “Accept and Build“, where you take what you are given by another actor or an audience member, then you embrace it and run with it.

I have a 19-month-old baby daughter, and playing with her has been inspirational, as Manuel is a bit of a child. I have also been listening to and trying to live by Baz Luhrmann‘s Sunscreen, especially the bits about being kind to your knees, stretching, and dancing in your own living room. But the best things seem to be eating well and getting plenty of sleep.

John Cleese and Connie Booth, along with Andrew Sachs, created such an adorable character in Manuel, that when you play him it‘s like walking into a room full of love. It is a great place to play. I also have two great teammates alongside me, Heather & Rob, ready to catch me if I fall (literally or figuratively) – so I feel as though I am in safe hands.”

What can Torontonians expect from this new run of “Faulty Towers: The Dining Experience” after its 9-year absence?

Philip: “The script develops and improves over time, and when you perform a show regularly it gets tighter and leaner like a well-toned athlete. We are lucky enough to have, as one of our Basils, Jack Baldwin, who also works as a director. He has been able to go round and see us all performing and accentuate the positives and eliminate the negatives (by which I mean that he has made us better, not that he has assassinated those not up to scratch).

The company has approximately 10 Manuels, 10 Basils, and 10 Sybils. So there are around 1000 combinations of performers. This means that the show can never get stale or repetitive, and that you find something new with every new group of actors. In a single sentence, Torontonians can expect to laugh their socks off.”

Finally, “Faulty Towers” has achieved remarkable success worldwide. What do you think sets this show apart?

Philip: “You don’t have to cram dinner in before going to the theatre, or worry that you’ll only be able to get a kebab afterwards. Here dinner is the show, and it is a deliciously funny experience. And then there’s the fact that this is not something that you are being shown on a stage. You are IN the performance, it is coming at you from every angle, you can reach out and touch it, you can change the story.”

Witness Philip transform into Manuel, a server from Barcelona training in hotel Fawlty Towers, and immerse yourself in the comedic chaos of the dining room. Get ready to laugh, cheer, and savor every moment of “Faulty Towers The Dining Experience” at Lighthouse Artspace Toronto running until April 14.


Maria Rostecka picture
Maria Rostecka

Maria Rostecka, Content Specialist, The Onside Media, Canada
Based in Toronto, Ontario. Hi! I’m Maria Rostecka, a Content Specialist at The Onside Media, Canada, with a focus on arts and entertainment, business, tech and culinary. If you have a compelling story to share, don’t hesitate to reach out at maria.rostecka@theonside.com.

SOURCEFaulty Towers Toronto

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