Grief is a difficult thing to talk about. It’s weird discussing it a review and is obviously an even trickier thing to articulate on stage. It’s therefore perhaps to the credit of My Mate Dave Died that, although failing to win any points for subtlety in it’s title, it not only manages to spin a sensitive and affecting experience out of a tough central conceit but it also feels like it never sacrifices any of the levity that makes this long-running Fringe item such a joy.
The titular ‘Dave’ is a sex-happy, pill-popper who draws some immediate comparisons with Jack O’Connell’s character Cook from Skins; he’s a fatal victim of his own confidence, and a liability for best mate Jimmy. In contrast to Dave, Jimmy is hard at work on his A-level revision and also trying to get serious with a girl from school who has a complicated loss of her own to deal with. Dave’s death and supernatural return naturally throw both of the aforementioned into jeopardy as Jimmy tries to work out quite to what end his deceased pal has come back.
“Irresistible sweetness, spot-on casting, and intelligent use of stagecraft”
There’re some initial clichés that perhaps should be got out way first; yes, this does involve some slightly seen-it-before depictions of the afterlife. Dave’s ghostly manifestation (along with the other spirits of the great beyond) appear dressed all in white and are laboured with all the typical rules and restrictions that limit their interaction with the living. A few slightly broad characters are also drawn out in the form of Jimmy’s overbearing mum and dorky, put-upon father, plus a digression involving Jimmy being caught in a scenario perhaps a bit predictable for a play involving teenage awkwardness.
The good news is that almost none of this detracts from the play’s irresistible sweetness, spot-on casting, and intelligent use of stagecraft. MMDD has now been performed for over two years at the Edinburgh festival and it’s easy to see why; it lands on a tone that succeeds (bar a moment straight out of American Pie) in accommodating an overwhelmingly serious, relatable subject as well as many instances of genuine hilarity.
The highly watchable cast, two performing as multi-rolers, carry the play through several fairly dramatic tonal shifts and their overall comic timing is infectious. For a play that’s made its name so explicitly as a Fringe piece it’s also worth pointing out that its ambition feels as if it stretches far beyond it’s venue. The direction and commitment of the cast keep even some of the more emotionally taxing scenes from feeling phoney and the chemistry between Dave and Jimmy is on point through to the end.
MMDD’s conclusion partly disappoints for the way in which it undeniably offers the sort of closure so frequently denied to those grieving in reality. It’s not an offensive finale, just one that’s perhaps too convenient in how it wraps up a play about the undeniably complicated process of bereavement. Despite the odd miss-step however, MMDD is mostly sincere in the way in which it handles a tough subject; it’s funny, touching, highly entertaining, and it’s status as a long-running fringe hit seems assured.
My Mate Dave Died ran at C Venues, C Aquila – Temple until 26th August.
Image: Dan West