Q Theatre Loft, 305 Queen St, Auckland

12/07/2017 - 22/07/2017

BATS Theatre, The Heyday Dome, 1 Kent Tce, Wellington

05/03/2018 - 09/03/2018

Rippon Hall, Wanaka

02/04/2019 - 04/04/2019

Turner Centre, 43 Cobham Road, Kerikeri

06/04/2019 - 06/04/2019

Repertory House, 167 Esk Street, Invercargill

01/05/2019 - 02/05/2019

Regent Theatre, The Octagon, Dunedin

23/09/2018 - 24/09/2018

BATS Theatre, The Heyday Dome, 1 Kent Tce, Wellington

27/09/2018 - 06/10/2018

Suter Theatre, Nelson

18/10/2018 - 19/10/2018

MATCHBOX Season 2017

NZ Fringe Festival 2018 [reviewing supported by WCC]

Nelson Arts Festival 2018

Dunedin Arts Festival 2018

Southland Festival of the Arts 2019

UPSURGE Bay of Islands Festival 2019

Southern Lakes Festival of Colour

Production Details

Created by Anya Tate-Manning and Isobel MacKinnon

This is a story about my best friends.
Ok, no, this is actually mostly a story about me.

December, 1998. Dunedin.
High summer in a town where there isn’t a lot to do.
This is a comedy about death, revolution, unfulfilled love, and a possum.

My Best Dead Friend is a true story about heart-breaking grief and enduring friendship featuring a soundtrack from The Verlaines to the Backstreet Boys, and the words of Tuwhare, Baxter, and Bishop. It’s a joyful comedy from a heavy heart.

An “authentic and brilliant” storytelling comedy show, My Best Dead Friend is created by Anya Tate-Manning (Hudson & Halls Live!) and Isobel MacKinnon (Best Director, 2015 NZ Fringe Festival). It was first performed in 2016 at Perth Fringe World at the prestigious Blue Room Theatre, where it was nominated for the West Australian Arts Editor’s award.

“Extraordinary joys and sorrows, extraordinary rebellions and submissions.” (The West Australian)

“Hilarious and refreshing” (

“Authentic and brilliant” (

Q Theatre Loft, 305 Queen St, Auckland
Wednesday 12 – Saturday 22 July 2017
Tue-Sat: 7.30pm
$22-$30 (booking fees may apply)

My Best Dead Friend is presented as part of MATCHBOX, the Q Theatre creative development programme.

Q Theatre is an independently owned and operated performing arts venue committed to the sustainability and success of arts and culture. Every year Q co-presents a season of works through its creative development programme, MATCHBOX (formerly known as ‘Q Presents’). MATCHBOX enables the best emerging and professional New Zealand performing artists to bring their ideas to life on stage. Through a three-step selection process Q curates a MATCHBOX Season that pushes boundaries, showcases Q’s transformative venue, and delivers unique experiences for audiences.


2017 is the first year that Q is offering audiences the ability to purchase a subscription pass to the entire MATCHBOX programme.
To buy a ticket to all three shows simply follow the link below and save 20%!

Season Pass – $78
(booking fees may apply)
A saving of over 20%!  

“A tantalising one-woman storytelling session” – NZ Herald

“Soaked in infectious humour and enigmatic personality”- Theatrescenes

“Frank-hearted, charmingly performed, thoroughly entertaining” – Theatreview

NZ Fringe 2018
BATS Theatre, The Heyday Dome
5 – 9 March 2018, at 9pm
Full Price $20 | Concession Price $15
Fringe Addict Cardholder $14

Arts Festival Dunedin

Sunday 23 Sept, 5pm & 7.30pm
Monday 24 Sept, 7.30pm

Wellington Return Season
BATS Theatre – The Heyday Dome
Thursday 27 Sept – Saturday 6 October 2018

Nelson Arts Festival 2018
Thu 18 & Fri 19 Oct
FULL $39 | UNDER 19 $25
SENIOR $35 | GROUP OF 6+ $35pp
Plus TicketDirect Service Fee
Book Now!

Southern Lakes Festival of Colour 2019
Rippon Hall, Wanaka
Tuesday 2 – Thursday 4 April 2019
Details & BOOKING

UPSURGE Bay of Islands Festival 2019
The Turner Centre, Kerikeri
Saturday 6 April 2019
7.30 pm

Southland Arts Festival 2019
Repertory House, 167 Esk Street, Invercargill
Wed 1 & Thur 2 May 2019
Adults – $30.00
Under 30’s – $20.00 Persons under 30 years with I/D
Concession – $20.00 Seniors and Unwaged
Double Bill Deal – $48.00 A single ticket for both My Best Dead Friend and Jane Do
Wheel Chair seating please ring 03 21 87188

Designer: Meg Rollandi 

Operator (Q Theatre): Isobel MacKinnon  



Writer, performer and co-creator – Anya Tate-Manning
Director and co-creator – Isobel MacKinnon
Set and AV design – Meg Rollandi  
Dramaturgy – Jo Randerson  
Publicity graphic design – Hadley Donaldson

Wellington 2018:
Lighting design and technical operation – Tony Black
Producing/production wrangling and publicity – Claire O’Loughlin
Dramaturgy – Jo Randerson 
AV technician – Charley Draper 

Theatre , Solo ,

65 minutes

Simply lovely to watch

Review by Sarah McCarthy 02nd May 2019

It’s exciting to deep-dive into someone else’s memories, especially when their memories spark your own. Set in the late 90s in Dunedin, My Best Dead Friend is a near-literal trip down memory lane as performer and writer Anya Tate-Manning shares her time as a teenager in a small, Scottish city at the bottom of the world.

When the scene is set I have that lovely thrill of recognition usually reserved for the odd mention of New Zealand in an American movie. And when the hugely funny Backstreet Boys section begins I realise, with that thrumming sensation in my stomach, that I lived in Dunedin at exactly the same time as the story takes place.

Yet had this story been set anywhere else in the world I still would have felt like I was coming home. My Best Dead Friend is proof that great storytelling is all you need.

Warmly funny, thoughtful, clever and almost unbearably sad, Tate-Manning’s words have us engrossed. There’s a lovely pace shift after the first section – from near-frantic excitement to steady, matching a more intense part of the story. The silences between words, now, after the rapid-fire delivery of the first section, reminds me of the huge silence after the music stops, and this downshift is masterful.

I now find myself so firmly ensconced in the story that I can’t even laugh when things are funny – I don’t want to break the spell. I force myself to make a sound because I like her so much and I don’t want her to feel like I’m not enjoying myself. Brilliant stuff.

A group of five young friends and a tiny house on top of a hill – that’s the story. And yet through Tate-Manning, her cunning use of chalk and a tight narrative we are transported into her memories where small things become huge – broad strokes give way to tiny details which serve to anchor the audience within the story. Pictures painted are vivid and loving and meticulous. Her manner – the way she moves across the stage, holds herself in the space, describes people and places and things – is simply lovely to watch.

At an hour it feels short but I am not left wanting more – I am full. I leave thinking of my friends from high school, of our secret language and sacred references and of our huge differences. I remember that summer in Dunedin, and now I remember hers, too.


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Chalk one up to talk and a wake

Review by Alan Scott 07th Apr 2019

My Best Dead Friend is a coming of age story set in the Dunedin of 1998. Written and performed by Anya Tate-Manning, the story traverses the student years of Anya and her four best friends.

The production, co-created with director Isobel MacKinnon, is a one-woman play driven at furious pace by Tate-Manning, who is playing herself but, in a neat piece of theatrical conceptualisation, she is accompanied by chalked representations of the friends. These are drawn by audience members on small blackboards, which are then attached and moved around a large blackboard which is the backdrop of the set. 

It sounds crazy but it works and it certainly resonates with the audience.There is even a blackboard possum who has a few moments in the spotlight as he rattles on a house roof from time to time.

Addicted to the Back Street Boys and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, exemplified by neat visuals projected on the backdrop, Anya describes in detail the life of herself and her friends from twenty years ago. In doing this, Tate-Manning comes across with real charm. She is engaging, highly personable and very funny with it. In her writing, she has a faultless ear for a humorous line. Much of her humour is aimed at herself and this self deprecation wins over the audience in spades.

Underneath the comedy, though, there is another story at play: the death in a car crash many years later of one of the friends, and the coming together of everyone for the funeral. It is quite special how, in terms of writing and performance, Tate-Manning manages to integrate these two seemingly contradictory elements and display convincingly disparate emotions.

But then My Best Dead Friend is an unusual production. At a key moment, Karl Marx rides in to town, so to speak, as the friends decide to foment revolution by chalking poetry all over the streets. 

As she tells the story, Tate-Manning draws in chalk, on the large backdrop, the streets and the buildings where the action takes place and writes the poets names on the floor. It’s such a clever piece of theatre.

The production isn’t without issues, though. On this particular night, her charm, vitality and presence notwithstanding, Tate-Manning’s delivery lets the production down somewhat. 

The opening sequences are spoken so quickly it is sometimes hard to discern what she is saying and she speaks in a relatively high pitched voice that display little tonal variation. Towards the end, crouching on the floor, scribbling names, she throws away much of the poetry that is supposed to be changing the world.

It may be that she is choosing to match the voice to the youthful persona she is depicting but the choice seems to lessen the overall impact of the piece.

Otherwise, My Best Dead Friend is engaging, thought provoking and highly funny to boot. Anya Tate-Manning can certainly chalk this one up. 


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Passion and charisma

Review by Kennedy Lahood-Timu 03rd Apr 2019

This cute and quirky show, performed and written so charmingly by Anya Tate-Manning, is so clever and hilarious it has us audience engaged the entire time.

We all get to sit back and belly laugh or cry as Anya tells her story of her life in Dunedin in the late 1990’s with her four best friends and a possum.

It is at the same time equally joyful and sad; a deep and beautiful authentic story told from the heart of friendship, youth, the want for revolution – and death, in light.

How she tells her story is very relatable and natural. Tate-Manning is very witty and imaginative in the way she projects herself, which allows such a flow to her performance. Not many plays can so humorously go from The Back Street Boys to deep poetry but it is very fitting as this is the light of the show and was the story of her life. 

Overall I feel Tate-Manning establishes a light-hearted mood in the room while talking openly of death and sorrow. She commands the stage from the moment she walks out to the moment the play finishes, pulling this story off with such passion and charisma, I highly enjoy this gorgeous production. 


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Truly unique

Review by Gail Tresidder 19th Oct 2018

On she comes, talking very fast, dressed in late 90s gear, the auditorium lights bright on a seemingly empty stage. She draws a possum; asks members of the audience to draw the other characters in this story. Chalk and boards are handed out, filled in according to her descriptions (very good the drawings are too) and having been given pride of place on the blackboard behind, we are off on a whirlwind journey to 1998 Dunedin.  This city of “Scottish Presbyterians, rugby fanatics and little to do on a Friday night but drive round and round the Octagon.”

Here is the past, Anya’s memories of her friends, the ones that, like her, didn’t quite fit in. Central to their lives is the generous Ali.  She shares her home, her communal bed in the rafters, her kitchen, her two sheep and the horse – also, unforgettably, the possum, that likes to live, and cough alarmingly, outside the bedroom window.  Ali is very special to them all.

Colour slides projected on to the backdrop, especially of The Backstreet Boys in many situations, not all of them flattering, a drawing of a TV screen that comes to life with Anya’s fave programme … Just some of the stage-craft that lifts this one-woman tour de force – co-created with director Isobel MacKinnon – way out of the ordinary.

However, it is the wonderful way Anya draws her town, it’s sleepy streets, and what these comrades in arms try to do to wake things up, not just on the board behind but simultaneously on the stage itself, all the while telling her story, that is remarkable, that is original.

Music is perfectly chosen. Leonard Cohen’s ‘Suzanne’ and Bob Dylan’s ‘Shelter from the Storm’ and in memoriam the names of influential writers, poets and philosophers of the period – including Baxter, Tuwhare and Atwood – are scrawled on the stage. 

We leap forward to 2012 and a sad occasion for this group of friends. The crux of her story.  The auditorium is very quiet – we all have our similar memories.

The last word goes to the possum.  For a possum he/she is lovely, as is this truly unique piece of theatre. 


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Well-conceived and executed; highly satisfying and affecting to watch

Review by Tim Stevenson 28th Sep 2018

The opening of My Best Dead Friend reminds this reviewer of a documentary he saw about a pride of lionesses in deepest Africa. The pride mainly hunted the fearsome African buffalo. The lionesses, however, were so good at what they do, so strong and so confident that they didn’t bother stalking their buffalo prey. They just stood up and started running at the herd, after which it was all que sera sera.

Make a few switches – ‘Anya Tate-Manning’ for ‘pride of lionesses,’ ‘storytelling’ for ‘hunting,’ ‘Bats Theatre’ for ‘deepest Africa’ and so on – and you’ve got the start of My Best Dead Friend. Tate-Manning walks on stage wearing cargo shorts and a Backstreet Boys T-shirt, says welcome everyone, thanks for coming out, and the show is off and running. Running being the operative word here, because Tate-Manning mostly talks fast (but very clearly) and she’s going to cover a lot of narrative ground in the advertised 65 minutes of the show.

So it’s a bold opening, but Tate-Manning has the material and the personality/ techniques she needs to capture her herd of buffalo, I mean audience. Starting with the material: My Best Dead Friend is built around two stories. One is an extended anecdote about how Tate-Manning and her friends plotted to bring Marxist revolution to Dunedin, one summer’s night back in 1998. The other is a string of memories of her best dead friend, centred on a couple of significant milestones.

To support the main stories, Tate-Manning gives us a wealth of background, about her friends, about Dunedin, and herself. A lot of the pleasure we get from the show comes from the supporting material; it’s often funny, often satirical, always sharply observed, and brilliantly delivered with the aid of a wall-sized chalkboard on which she draws an equally enormous personal landscape to illustrate the storyline(s).

The material is strong, and so is Tate-Manning’s performance. She mostly comes across as spontaneous, sincere and open to both the audience and whatever she’s feeling at the moment; a tricky balancing act which she pulls off with accomplished skill (yes, there’s a paradox there, that’s the point). As well as being skilled, she’s also gifted with a 1000 Watt personality which beams out from the stage and easily reaches the farthest corner of the room, not to mention any crusty old reviewers lurking there.

Overall, the threads of material are woven together seamlessly to create the impression that Tate-Manning is following her own train of thought wherever it takes her; and it takes her to a lot of places, the world she is recreating (teenage life, Dunedin, the 1990s) being a reasonably complex one. There are a few contrived moments, particularly towards the end when Tate-Manning is bringing together big, emotion-laden ideas or reflections about the dead past.

The end of this show is interesting; there is a natural end, which is dramatically effective and has a satisfyingly ‘philosophical’ feel to it, and then straight after, another finish which isn’t technically as neat but is sadder and more moving. They both work.

The BATS website tells us that My Best Dead Friend is a comedy about death, revolution, unfulfilled love, and a possum. All of the above appear at one stage or other (love the possum). Another way of looking at the show is that it’s ‘about’ nostalgia; for being young, old friendships and the places where they happened, for the well-loved dead. As an evocation of the past, this show is well-conceived and executed, and highly satisfying and affecting to watch. Its awards and complimentary reviews (see links below) are well deserved.

Co-creator, director and stage manager Isobel MacKinnon has worked well with Tate-Manning to keep the show visually lively and interesting through the integration of chalkboard work and verbal delivery. They are abetted by Meg Rollandi’s performance design, Charley Draper’s video editing and Nick Zwart’s lighting design and technical operation.



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Funny and beautiful and devastating

Review by Izzy Lomax-Sawyers 24th Sep 2018

It’s easy to see how My Best Dead Friend won Best of Fringe at the New Zealand Fringe Festival. It’s a hilarious and moving piece of theatre.  

The show opens with our narrator and the show’s writer, Anya Tate-Manning, alone on stage in her cargo pants and Backstreet Boys t-shirt in front of a black backdrop. Willing victims in the audience are given pieces of black-painted Corflute (which will later stick somehow to the backdrop) and white chalk, and asked to draw the characters as Tate-Manning describes them. There are six characters: Tate-Manning’s 17 year old self, her four best friends, and the city of Dunedin in high summer, December 1998.

My Best Dead Friend has been performed in several towns since its inception, but this season is the first at home in Dunedin. The show could stand alone with its descriptions of the city’s landmarks, but is richer for the audience’s familiarity with the places it describes, and we all guffaw in recognition at the observational humour about local rugby culture.

I’ll be thinking about the cleverness of the set and tech design (Meg Rollandi) and Tate-Manning’s interactions with it for ages. The simple drawings and cheerful background jingle during the early parts of the story give an almost childlike feel. The use of chalk plays beautifully on a thread from the script, and conveys a sense of impermanence. Drawing (and erasing) gives Tate-Manning something to do, so that the show never feels like an extended monologue. I would be remiss in not mentioning Director Isobel MacKinnon and Dramaturg Jo Randerson at this point: these talented women have made the show slick in the best possible way.

Tate-Manning is a brilliant storyteller and a captivating presence. She speaks of her friends and her younger self with warmth, generosity, and a healthy dose of self-deprecation. The first part of the show orients us to life as a teenage misfit in small(ish) town New Zealand in the late 90s, where there’s nothing much to do except drive around the Octagon catcalling women. Audiovisual elements are used with superb (and hilarious) effect. Those of us in the audience who remember 1998 (I was seven okay, but Backstreet Boys were life) find ourselves nostalgic for that time even as we laugh at it.

The show then tells the story of a night when four bored teenagers decided to change the world, and Anya tagged along too. Their spontaneous would-be revolution and youthful optimism is charming, and painfully recognisable to those of us who have ever been teenagers dissatisfied with the status quo. The recounting of this not-so-fateful night is intermingled with memories from later on in these friendships.

The spoiler is in the title: someone dies. We hear about the night it happened and about the funeral. Discussion of this is mostly kept light and humorous, but occasionally we catch glimpses of Tate-Manning’s immense grief. The ending feels a little abrupt, which is perhaps exactly the right ending to a story that is kind of about a life cut short.

This is not a piece that wraps up its conclusions with a neat bow. I walk away feeling uncertain of the precise connection the creators want me to see between an almost-revolution and a funeral many years later. One review suggests it is frustration: at a revolution thwarted and a life unfinished. Personally, the performance strikes me more as a portrait of a friendship, with a nod to the transitory nature of life and youth. Whatever the creators’ intended message, it makes me laugh and cry, think and feel. It is very, very good.

My Best Dead Friend is funny and beautiful and devastating. See it. Seriously.


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An hour very well spent

Review by John Smythe 06th Mar 2018

Glover’s magpies might well have said 
Quardle oodle ardle wardle doodle 
But all Anya’s possum says 
Is haaaaarch…

That the possum bookends My Best Dead Friend may or may not be significant. This thoroughly absorbing show, devised by Anya Tate-Manning (writer and solo performer) and Isobel MacKinnon (director), is hard to pin down as to genre, purpose and style.

It’s certainly storytelling, augmented by idiosyncratic chalk illustrations on a large blackboard wall, and on the floor. It presents as autobiographical too but I’m guessing the Anya of the story is a comedic distillation of Tate-Manning’s more fallible aspects: the person who is part of a group but doesn’t feel she quite belongs; who tries to fake it in order to be in the conversation; whose stress in some social situations make her blurt out and do totally inappropriate things.

Anya in the story, then, may be seen as a discreet and discrete critique of her naïve younger self and/or as a low-key outing of Tate-Manning’s personal clown.

Taking us back to Dunedin in 1998, the focus, ostensibly, is on her friends. Slates that magically adhere to the blackboard flats bear the names Tessa, Emma, Dougal and Ali. In her amiable, quietly excited manner, Anya introduces them to us and – having set the art-bar low with her drawing of the possum – she gets audience members to draw them based on her descriptions. Thus the audience contributes to an evolving visual design that will differ at every performance.  

The Backstreet Boys and other Dunedin bands are referenced, along with some excellent AV imagery. Mention of ‘The Ride that Never Ends’ seems light-hearted and discursive but in retrospect, given where the story goes as per the title, I think it’s a precursor.

The Verlaines accompany a brief summary of Dunedin’s history and distinctive student culture. A light skim over ‘mating rituals’ and rape culture is the first strong hint we get that Anya in 1998 is surfing the scene rather than politically engaged.

The ‘story proper’ brings us to Ali’s house on the hill, seen as everyone’s house by all the friends. That’s where the possum comes in. So too does the first mention of the titular death, which happened many years later. The story around that is interwoven with returns to their formative student days, where the inevitable discovery of Karl Marx is juxtaposed with Anya’s addiction to Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  

Their big revolutionary mission makes for an hilarious sequence – about which I’ll say no more. As for Anya’s contribution: was it trite or profound; did it deserve to remain when others didn’t; was the response of others fair? That’s for each of us to decide.

What makes it all so engaging is the degree to which we can see ourselves, our friends, our lives and a larger social history in the consummate storytelling Tate-Manning’s Anya delivers. As Tate-Manning gets to learn from who Anya was and how life was back then, so do we.

And haaaaarch the possum said.

It’s an hour very well spent. 


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Backstreet Dunedin

Review by Rachael Longshaw-Park 17th Jul 2017

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’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. [More


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Frank-hearted, charmingly performed, thoroughly entertaining

Review by Nik Smythe 13th Jul 2017

A large black-washed wall (a blackboard, it turns out) stretches across the breadth of the stage, with five rectangular portrait-sized panels attached (magnetically, it turns out).  Four of these have names already written on them: TESSA, DOUGAL, EMMA and ALI: These are the characters in writer/performer Anya Tate-Manning’s extraordinarily related tale of her life in late 90s Dunedin. 

A friendly direct introduction prefaces the ensuing yarn, with Anya openly acknowledging her friends and acquaintances in the audience and providing some background to her story’s time (1998), place (Dunedin) and people (as above).  Director (and technical operator) Isobel MacKinnon draws maximum sharpness and clarity from Anya’s whimsical anecdote about being grudgingly roped into a Marx-fuelled all-nighter out on the tiles, creating their own poetic brand of anti-establishment would-be mayhem. 

This hilariously related escapade is interspersed with more down-to-earth flash-forwards to 2012, receiving the news of a sudden tragic death and the subsequent funeral. 

Anya sets the scene and creates a picture of her teenage world both verbally and literally through her extensive chalk-drawn landscape and other appealingly simple narrative-driving illustrations.  The original form of visual augmentation is further enhanced by Meg Rollandi’s sporadic nifty video design, projected onto the set with impressive timing and precision.

Contemporary features to assist in our mental journey back to almost two decades ago include Buffy, Mr. Blobby and the Backstreet Boys – all starting with B, I now realise, for what that’s worth, or not (probably). 

To dramaturg Jo Randerson’s credit, it’s difficult (and unnecessary) to determine where her input begins and ends, given Anya’s personal and wholly natural delivery. 

There’s little else to describe that’s not better experienced directly through Anya’s frank-hearted, charmingly performed, thoroughly entertaining play.


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