My Festival: A Q&A with mandla rae

The Zimbabwean writer and performer on, among other things, being obsessed with Doctor Who and Edinburgh’s town planning.

What are you doing at this year’s festival?

Mostly getting weird with some watermelons, hanging out with knives and tools, making lots of mess and food waste, contemplating the Bible, singing isiNdebele folk songs. All the fun stuff!

What do you most want to see this year and why?

mandla rae. PIC: Benjamin Liddell

Anything queer, foreign, joyful and cabaret. There’s a show at Pleasance Courtyard directed by dear friend Maz Hedgehog and written by our friend Faye Draper called Closure that I’ve been dying to see. Sophie Duker’s Hag is high on my list, I love to laugh. The Rest of Our Lives by Jo Fong and George Orange, Sonia Hughes’ I Am From Reykjavik and Caste-ing by Nouveau Riche. Also, Scottish National Theatre’s Medea, and Figs in Wigs: Astrology Bingo. The list is very long, the time I’m here is short.

What’s your favourite place in the city and why?

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I am obsessed with the design of some of the streets in the city centre. I remember the first time I came here, getting really confused by the map and asking for directions, only to find I needed to go down a heap of stairs because life exists on many levels here. Amazing, what genius town planning.

Who do you most like spending time with at the festival?

I joined a ragtag group of festival staff last time I was here, and we were a little family for a month, it was very special. People are so open and playful, the connections feel so intense even if you spend all of five minutes with someone.

What do you remember about your first ever Edinburgh festival appearance?

The first time I technically brought work to Edinburgh was last year – it was a short film version of my show as british as a watermelon, it screened at Summerhall and was part of the Horizon showcase. I remember getting Covid the week screenings began and was really glad about the digital offer naturally. That would have been awful! Some lovely women and non-binary folks who also had digital work made a group chat on Twitter and we met up for Zoom hangouts and shouted about each other’s shows from our corners of the world as if we were all in Edinburgh.

What are the best and worst things that have happened to you in Edinburgh?

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I think the worst things are somewhere between someone telling me not to flyer for a show, which I thought was mean and unnecessary, and the casual racism was a bit more prominent shall we say. Best thing was getting a medal at the Summerhall staff awards ceremony! Also seeing like 60-something shows.

How was lockdown for you? Did it change you, and if so how?

I didn’t mind the isolation so much you know, I’m quite a homebody anyway. When I’m writing, I spend a lot of time alone otherwise there’s no chance of getting any work done. I started growing tomatoes, chillies, and sunflowers etc in my garden and became obsessed with growing things as a way of channeling my grief.

Tell us something about you that would surprise people.

I’m obsessed with Doctor Who. I have a Fourth Doctor Sonic Screwdriver signed by lovely Tom Baker himself after I spent about seven hours in a queue to meet him about nine years ago. Still in its original packaging and always will be, of course.

What’s the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning?

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Crawl downstairs to make a coffee, then physiotherapy for about an hour. It hurts but it’s good, I used to hate it but I now love the routine of being forced to look after myself. It makes it a lot easier to do it everywhere else,

And what’s the last thing you do before you go to bed at night?

I have an intensive skin and hair care routine. I put my hair into five little plaits so it doesn’t flatten out when I’m asleep, pop a bonnet on. Wash and cleanse my face, brush my teeth etc.

Thanks for the interview! We’d like to buy you a drink. Where are we going and what are we drinking?

I’ve heard about an afternoon tea spot that’s also a vintage tour bus, I’m very intrigued. I like when stuff is two things.

as british as a watermelon, The Studio, 8pm, until 26 August.

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