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Novels, plays, clambering about on roofs—is there anything Katherine Rundell can’t do?


EVERY SUMMER, the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in Sctoland stages thousands of productions, most of which are never heard of again, however good they are. It took an American portrait painter with a passion for theater to do something about this. The Carol Tambor Best of Edinburgh Award, established in 2004, is not so much a drama prize as a young writer’s dream—the winning show lands a New York transfer off-Broadway, all expenses paid. The latest beneficiary, which begins previews February 8 at 4th Street Theatre, is Life According to Saki, the first play by a young Englishwoman, Katherine Run-dell. The Tambor judges have chosen well. To those who know her, it’s been obvious for years that Rundell was going to be a star. The only question was in what field, as she is also an acclaimed children’s novelist, a fellow of Oxford’s smartest college and a tight-rope walker.

Rundell (which rhymes with bundle) is 29, a gamine figure. When we meet for tea at a hotel next to the British Library in London, she’s dressed all in black apart from her Chelsea boots, which are the color of mint sauce. The subject of her play, Saki, was an Edwardian reporter—real name H.H. Munro—whose short stories were witty, macabre and highly influential. “He wrote in the vernacular of the drawing room,” Rundell wrote in the London Review of Books in 2015, “but with the ruthlessness of an avenging prophet.” His fans have included A.A. Milne, P.G. Wodehouse and Roald Dahl, who said the best of Saki was “better than the best of just about every other writer around.” But while Dahl, Milne and Wodehouse never faded away, Munro is half-forgotten. “The thing about Saki,” Rundell tells me, “is that almost nobody has heard of him, but almost everyone who has is obsessed with him.”

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