My Best Dead Friend
, a tantalising one-woman storytelling session, begins with the house lights still up. Writer and performer Anya Tate-Manning wanders onstage in her best 90s casuals - cargo pants and a Backstreet Boys T-shirt - to chat with us.
The vibe is easy, non-threatening; charmingly, Tate-Manning is both self-deprecating and witty, with an eye for funny detail. She sketches in the four members of her school posse - her "best Australian friend", "best clever friend" etc as well as Ali, the title character - and then literally chalk-sketches their summer of 1998 on the back wall, successfully offering self-mockery instead of artistic ability. (Meg Rollandi's design is nicely low-key, leaving space for a couple of humorous visual surprises.)
The audience is left to join the dots between the 1990s' thwarted teenage revolution and the flash-forwards to the "wave of grief so thick I can't breathe" when Ali dies. The link between the two is frustration: disappointment at things cut short.
Right up to the coda, Tate-Manning depicts attempts to make ritual and meaning that go awry. Anya-the-character kicks herself for deflecting the grief through joking, yet the show itself deliberately gives us humour instead of catharsis.
This 50-minute show might look slight (and yes, its connections could be tighter) but it rewards post-show pondering. Like memories, Tate-Manning's chalk sketches become vague and rubbed-out.
Her voice could be a little louder and more controlled and the initially frenetic pacing gets just a tiny bit draggy at one point (then again, she's expressing how boring an empty town is to teenagers).
This Zanetti Productions outing is part of Q Theatre's Matchbox development season and it does have a few missed opportunities. We're told "10 years later, Ali bought the farm" and it turns out she actually did pay money for land; there's no knowing wink that farm-buying is a euphemism for dying.
Overall, though, an entertaining show and there's depth there if you want it.
What: My Best Dead Friend
Where & when: Loft, Q Theatre; until Saturday, July 22
Reviewer: Janet McAllister