Saturday, 4 April 2015

Letters Live - Fri 3 April 2015

Letters Live - Freemasons Hall Fri 3 April 2015
Last night I was very lucky to be in receipt of tickets to see the latest instalment of Letters Live in the beautiful art deco surroundings of the Freemasons Hall in Holborn. These unique events are a result of the popular twitter feed @lettersofnote, which shares iconic, poignant and amusing letters and keeps the dying art form alive. Released as a best-selling book and with previous events at the Southbank and Hay Festival, Letters Live took over this beautiful venue for a week, with each night's line-up a well kept secret.

I have walked past this beautiful building many times and wandered what it was and what lay inside, so it was a treat in itself to enter the ornate doors and discover marble pillars, stone staircases, ornate ceilings and stained glass windows. The acoustics were fantastic and every seat seemed to have a great view of the cast of readers. The first half was full of excitement as we didn't know who would be appearing on stage next and each person was greeted with gasps of delight.

The headliners were Letters Live regulars Benedict Cumberbatch and Louise Brealey who were both fantastic. Cumberbatch took on a range of roles and voices, the highlight for me being when he reprised his role as Alan Turing to read a letter written to his beloved Christopher's mother after his death. Knowing his heartbreaking reason in simply asking for a photo to remember him by made this letter extremely moving and seeing an Oscar nominated performance being recreated before our eyes was a real privilege. Louise Brealey had her share of poignancy reading a letter from Charlotte Bronte after the death of her sister Emily. It was beautifully read and she was obviously moved, making a hasty exit from the stage. She also did a lovely reading of Beatrix Potter's A Tale of Peter Rabbit, which was my highlight of the first half.

Benedict Cumberbatch reading as Chris Barker
The Sherlock cast mates also read their regular series of letters from WWII sweethearts Chris Barker and Bessie Moore from the book My Dear Bessie. It is an extraordinary story as Chris serving in North Africa decided to write to old friends including an old colleague of his called Bessie. Her unexpected reply continued in a series of funny, honest and passionate letters as they fell in love via their letters. Their performances were brilliant as the whole audience was hanging on to every words and roaring with laughter at the unexpected turn of phrases - 'Digestion? How is yours?!'

Other amusing moments came from Geoffrey Palmer reading the famous Arkell v Pressdram letter sent by Private Eye, Sanjeev Bhuskar as Spike Milligan writing back to a 'fan' who was not impressed by the recent volume of his autobiography ('If you're disappointed by it, I am as I spent a whole year gathering material. I didn't know whether to make a suit or a book...') and the wonderful Samantha Bond reading Tina Fey's replies to internet trolls. But my favourite was Olivia Colman reading a letter from Elvis fans to the White House, concerned that their hero was going to have a G.I haircut. Her own unique style of reading had me in tears of laughter.

Other readers included Downton Abbey's Joanne Froggatt with an impressive American accent, Tom Sturridge as Mark Twain and Henry James who did overact a little in his readings (and was told off by Geoffrey Palmer for not turning the page!), Colin Salmon, Gemma Chan who only had one reading and Andrew O'Hagen. Tom Odell provided some beautiful renditions of songs about the art of letter writing.

This was a great evening of entertainment, as well as a thought-provoking celebration of the written word. If you get a chance to go to one of these events - do go! Each one is curated especially for each evening and the performers change each night so no two performances will be the same.
All the evening's readers taking their bows

Keep an eye on upcoming events and watch videos here

Visit The Letters of Note website to browse the letters or order the books here


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