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Edinburgh Fringe 2021

mandla rae – as british as a watermelon

mandla rae / Produced by Switchflicker Productions.

Genre: LGBT, Solo Show, Theatre

Venue: Summerhall Online


Low Down

“‘My name is mandla. It means power. I gave it to myself’ – mandla rae has a selective memory and they are scrambling to piece together their life. Through the exploration of mandla’s fragmented asylum and migration memories, as british as a watermelon asks questions about belonging, trauma and forgiveness. Told through an unflinching autofiction narrative weaving poetry and storytelling set within a chaotically colourful, sensory performance space and imagined entirely for the camera with film-maker Graham Clayton-Chance; join mandla as they rise from the dead and reclaim their misplaced power.”


mandla rae, originally from Zimbabwe looks directly at the camera saying “I’m a liar” as they remember fragments of memories of their early life, immigration to the UK, sexual assault, sexuality and racism.

This show is also part of the inaugural Horizon Showcase. A programme of digital performances created by England based artists, and funded by Arts Council England.

Recollections are often fixed from surrounding people and situations we live through but sometimes minds move information among these compartments and things change. From a very young age in Zimbabwe, rae remembers tender moments through song that become plaintive or more demonstrative as they recall and question dire situations.

A foundational theme is that rae states they are “envious of people who grew up in one house their whole life”. rae’s experience as a child and arriving one day in the UK is frought with the tangles of the realities of immigration status, isolation, self mutilation and bullying. One’s given name is sometimes abhorrent or disliked and they changed their name to mandla (which means power) rae.

A very compelling performer with depth and range of emotion, they flow through each scene with an astute sense of timing. The poetic script is abstract and spare enough to allow the viewer of this thirty minute film to hear rae’s words, watch rae move about the stage or look out at us knowingly, and imagine the combination of all these elements evoking memories and feelings.

rae, framed beautifully by camera angles, close up, long shot, surrounded by an innovative set that transforms with shapes and dramatic lighting, directed by Graham Clayton-Chance, and supported by a team of creatives. Brief transitions of loud throbbing music add to the intensity of the storytelling; rae wears a colourful costume patterned with watermelons – plus there are several large watermelons onstage that suggest different moods and settings. A watermelon is a ball, a toy, a friend or is enveloped by rae’s anger, disgust and mistrust, a toxic being that must be distinguished. The metaphor is powerful, visual and impactful.

This is a fascinating analysis of their mind, what’s inside it and who is allowed to access it. Sharing poignant memories rae chops a watermelon in pieces – and carefully places its parts back together as if in a melodic ritual, trying to right the wrongs.