The show begins with our performer already on stage, smiling and jigging about to the Backstreet Boys playing over the speakers. The set consists of large blackboards and not much else. It’s bare, empty, and ready for a story to unfold. Anya Tate-Manning jumps straight into it by setting the scene and describing her tight knit group of friends. She hands a few select audience members slates of chalkboard and chalk, asking them to draw her friends as she describes them. What is produced are amusing yet endearing caricatures. This device works well in showing her deep familiarity with these people and helping to paint a rich picture of her relationships with the group.
After a stunningly in-depth recap of the career of the Backstreet Boys (young Tate-Manning’s obsession), the show focuses on two main events that she switches between: one particularly lonely night in Dunedin when her group of friends decide to lead a revolution, and the aftermath of her friend Ali’s death. The moments in which Tate-Manning chooses to switch between the tales often curbs an emotional tide before it can truly overflow on stage.
As the story unfolds Tate-Manning draws the town of Dunedin and her friend Ali’s cottage across the black chalkboards and across the floor. This visual aid helps us connect to her memories in a more tangible way and later serve to illustrate the passing of time as she brushes away the drawings and muddies her memories.
Throughout the show she mocks herself for often being the joker full of inappropriate quips in serious times, but the show frames her struggle to tackle grief “properly” in an endearing way and ultimately without her sense of humour this show wouldn’t exist. Tate-Manning has created a touching homage to her late friend that is soaked in her infectious humour and enigmatic personality.
This tale of a small group of friends and the loss of Ali is a moving show that covers the grief of losing a loved one but also encapsulates the frustration of growing up in a small city at the bottom of the earth. Tate-Manning is a delight to watch on stage and whilst the performance could be tighter, the messy and unpolished aspects of the show only add a touch of humanity. If you have ever experienced the loss of a friend you will most definitely connect to her story of loss and friendship. Her personality and humourful story telling will touch your heart.
My Best Dead Friend plays until 22 July. Details see Q