The black box space in Summerhall is perfectly suited to Zanetti Productions’ new one-woman show My Best Dead Friend, at once intimate and epic in its proportions. Created by Anya Tate-Manning and Isobel MacKinnon, this gentle show about grief and coming of age is a wonderful, moving hour, and Tate-Manning gives an engaging and touching performance.
This gentle show about grief and coming of age is a wonderful, moving hour
Speaking directly to the audience, Tate-Manning tells the simple story of growing up in the 1990s Dunedin, a small town at the very southern tip of New Zealand. She sets the scene with a giant chalkboard which covers the entire back wall and the floor and sides of space, filling the stage with her drawings and the sheer force of her personality. She also invited the audience to join in the drawing on a couple of occasions. The monologue feels at once organically spontaneous and yet also poetically crafted, with clever callbacks and asides which frame the main body of the narrative. At points, projections and music are used to great effect, for example in a humorous extended monologue about Tate-Manning’s love of the Backstreet Boys.
While the play is undoubtedly funny, it also manages to tug at the heartstrings. Despite its macabre title, this show is not really about grief; rather about the memories we hold on to those we miss. The premise, of a group of intellectual friends at the cusp of adulthood, is The Secret History-lite, with the threat of their pretensions at times a little concerning, although ultimately the message is a lot more uplifting. The inclusion of poetry and artistic references are wonderfully intermixed with more lowbrow culture.
While the lack of plot is in some ways the show’s most endearing quality, there were moments where I wanted a little more insight into the lives of Anya and her friends and the snapshots we got were not quite enough for me to truly empathise with their plight of beign stuck in the provincial backwater. With her strong New Zealand accent and breakneck delivery speed, Tate-Manning is also a little hard to understand at times, and her frantic performance style could be mistaken for nerves.
Nevertheless, My Best Dead Friend is a gem of a play with a beautiful message of how to deal with loss and the end of a childhood. A glorious hour.