My Festival: Robert Softley

The multi-talented director of Birds of Paradise theatre company answers our festival Q&A

Robert Softley in his show If These Spasms Could Speak

What are you doing for this year’s festival?

If These Spasms Could Speak, my solo show that I first brought to the Fringe in 2013.

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

I haven’t looked at this year’s programme at all – the pessimist in me didn’t really think much was going to happen at all and by the time I realised it was, I didn’t have much time. Really looking forward to the Viva Your Vulva walking show (ironic!) this week.

What are the best and worst things about social distancing?

The best is definitely feeling like you’ve got a legitimate reason to avoid certain people. But the worst is the sheer lack of physical contact we now experience – I honestly wonder if we’ll ever go back to hugging, snogging, licking each other? What – wait – must people don’t lick each other?? Well I never!

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

I met the mother of my kids, which some days could fall into both of these categories! Nah – it was definitely the best thing. I can’t think of a worst thing – nothing bad ever happens on the web, surely! A really difficult thing for me was doing another solo piece from my bedroom in November 2020 and at the end of each perform just shutting my laptop and it being over. Call me whatever you want to but I need a bit of post-show contact/praise/drinks/whatever!

Please tell us about your first ever Edinburgh festival appearance.

As an audience member I think it was Requiem for Ground Zero by Steven Berkoff in 2002. It was a stunning solo piece – his physical presence has stayed with me 20 years later.

Do you have a favourite memory of the festival?

The year I did Spasms, we performed 28 days with one day off in the middle, so I was knackered by week three. In the show there’s a segment where I encourage the audience to shout words of encouragement to any folk in wheelchairs who look like they might be working out. On day twenty-something I was wheeling myself up a hill to the venue and a random stranger shouted “Step it up a gear, you fat b*st*ard!” – serves me right.

What do you think the future of the Edinburgh festivals looks like?

Hybrid is the buzzword now, isn’t it? I think there will be increased digital work but honestly, the key thing lockdown has taught me is that live, in-person theatre can’t be beaten – it can’t be replicated online. You need to be in the same room at the same time for the magic to happen.

Thank you! We’d love to buy you a drink. What do you want from the (socially distanced) bar?

Vodka and diet coke – it’s not classy, but it got me this far in life!

Robert Softley will perform If These Spasms Could Speak live online on Sunday 29 August at 7.30pm as part of this year's Shedinburgh programme. Tickets can be booked at https://shedinburgh.com

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