Regular readers of my blog will perhaps be aware of my previous trips to Letters Live events over the last five years and last night I was back for another evening, appreciating the brilliance of the written word, this time back at Union Chapel in North London.
For those unfamiliar with the events, they are such a simple, yet beautiful concept. A selection of letters, some from decades ago, others from today, are read aloud by a group of actors and performers. You don’t know what letters you’ll hear, nor who will read them. Despite its huge rise in popularity, I still love that the creative team behind Letters Live don’t reveal who the performers are beforehand. The night is, after all, about the magic of the letters, letter writing and the emotions they convey. It’s not meant to be about the famous stars reading them.
As I have done following my previous trips to Letters Live, I thought I’d talk a bit about last night’s show and set out a full list of readers and their letters (although, as Letters Live still don’t give you a list of the letters, or it seems tweet them anymore, I’ve had to rely on my notes and some online research once I arrived home to fill in the details).
Saturday night’s show included a mix of poignant and humorous letters, giving us an insight in to the lives of their writers across the decades. Taking to the stage over the course of the evening were Benedict Cumberbatch (who has been involved with Letters Live since the very beginning), Juliet Stevenson, Noel Fielding, Katherine Ryan, Thom Yorke, Lesley Manville, Jordan Stephens, Fatima Bhutto, Niamh McGrady and Denise Gough, with musical interludes by the superb Tom Odell (who also read a letter too).
Every time I go to Letters Live, there are some letters that move me a little more than others and my personal highlights this time included Denise Gough’s moving reading of Patton Halliday Quinn’s letter to her unborn daughter, which is actually a letter to all young women, from one generation to the next, Juliet Stevenson’s remarkably accurate channelling of Margaret Thatcher and Kurt Vonnegut’s letter to the world in 2088 (100 years in the future for him) (read by Benedict Cumberbatch), in which some of his concerns about our planet remain frighteningly relevant.
The event also always manages to include some truly funny moments and the funniest by far for me were Benedict Cumberbatch’s hilarious reading of Fred Allen’s letter to his insurance company, detailing a hilarious series of unfortunate accidents and Lesley Manville and Denise Gough reading both the letter to a Dublin agony aunt column and the response. They proved once again that putting things down in writing often preserves some truly wonderful gems of the past.
As well as the letters, these events also always include music too. In the past I’ve seen Rag N Bone Man, before he became the huge name he is and last night I was thrilled to once again see Tom Odell at Letters Live. He’s always superb live and it was no different this Saturday, with him performing three songs, including perhaps his best known one, Another Love, although I also loved his rendition of Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds’s Love Letter.
My one slight gripe about Saturday’s event was that there were moments when the fact we were all there for the letters seemed to be forgotten by certain performers. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for comedy and adding fun in to the night, but in my view, you can do this without making it about you and there were times when Noel Fielding (and to a lesser extent, Katherine Ryan), seemed to forget this wasn’t one of his shows, repeatedly stopping mid-way through reading the letters to make a quip or give his own commentary on it to the audience. For me, it became rather tiring and took away from the letters that we were there to hear and appreciate. It’s the first time I’ve found myself thinking this whilst at Letters Live.
However, that aside, it was another enjoyable evening and I still cannot recommend these events enough. There is something for everyone and you will travel through history and emotion as you listen to words that were written, some so long ago, but which meant so much to both writer and receiver.
As happens every time I leave Letters Live, it inspires me to put pen to paper and get in touch with someone the old fashioned way and as I’ve done in previous reviews, I’ll end by encouraging everyone to do the same. You may never know how much a letter will mean to the person who receives it.
Tonight’s List of Letters & Music – Saturday 9th March 2019
- Performance by Tom Odell
- “Ladies & Gentleman of A.D. 2088” – Kurt Vonnegut (1988) to the future (read by Benedict Cumberbatch)
- “Dame of what?” – Doris Lessing to the Prime Minister’s office (2007) (read by Juliet Stevenson)
- Letter from Salvador Dali to Frederico Garcia Lorca (19**) (read by Noel Fielding)
- Letter from Calamity Jane (Jane Cannary Hickok) to the daughter she gave up (1884) (read by Katherine Ryan)
- Letter to the Daily Telegraph regarding autocorrect and the meaning of life (2015) (read by Thom Yorke)
- Letter from Diana Athill to her friend, regarding being unmarried (2015) (read by Lesley Manville)
- Letter from Prince to Tom Moon at Rolling Stone magazine (1994) (read by Jordan Stephens)
- Letter from Jawaharlal Nehru to his daughter Indira, written from prison (1930) (read by Fatima Bhutto)
- “I write for myself & I’ll say anything I damn well please” – An angry mum’s letter to the band Green Day and their response (1996) (read by Niamh McGrady & Tom Odell)
- An Open Letter to All of the Daughters – Patton Halliday Quinn to her as yet unborn daughter (2015) (read by Denise Gough)
- Letter from Hunter S. Thompson replying to a complaint received by Rolling Stone magazine from a 91 year old accidental subscriber (read by Katherine Ryan & Noel Fielding)
- Letter to Henry Miller (1934) (read by Niamh McGrady)
- Letter from Nick Cave to a young fan (2018) (read by Benedict Cumberbatch)
- “Love Letter” by Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, performed by Tom Odell
- “Another Love” performed by Tom Odell
- Letter from US comedian Fred Allen to his insurance company (1932) (read by Benedict Cumberbatch)
- Dear Friend” – Letter from a theatregoer to Hermione Gingold and her response to “A. Friend” (1950) (read by Jordan Stephens & Niamh McGrady)
- Letter by an Austrian to their noisy neighbours (2014) (read by Noel Fielding)
- Letter from Simone de Beauvoir to Nelson Algren (1950) (read by Juliet Stevenson)
- Letter to the Guardian (2016) (read by Thom Yorke)
- Letter from Joan Rivers’ daughter, Melissa, to her mother, which was later read at her funeral (read by Katherine Ryan)
- Letter from Yuri Gagarin to his family, two days before his 1961 space mission (read by Benedict Cumberbatch)
- Letter to the Dublin paper, the Metro Herald, from Karen needing advice & the printed response (2014) (read by Lesley Manville & Denise Gough)
- “P.S. This is my favourite memo ever” – Matt Stone’s memo to the MPAA regarding the final cut of the South Park film (read by Jordan Stephens)
- Letter from Margaret Thatcher to a young girl, upset about her parents’ impending divorce (1981) (read by Juliet Stevenson)
- Letter to the FT regarding Brexit (2017) (read by Noel Fielding)
- “I know, Mother, I know” – Anne Sexton to he 15 year-old daughter (1969) (read by Lesley Manville)
- Letter written and read by two young activists regarding the danger of global warning (introduced by Benedict Cumberbatch & read by the two young women who wrote it, Anna Taylor & Ivi Hohmann). This is linked to the planned walkout next week by students across the world to protest about this vital issue, that affect us all.
The wonderful books, To The Letter, Letters of Note, More Letters of Note are available through the usual stockists. For more information about Letters Live, visit the website here: http://letterslive.com
You can read my previous reviews of Letters Live events through the following links: