Letters Live – a review

Words play an important part in all of our lives. Currently they are playing a very big part in my work life as we are distilling what artisan is all about and what makes us different into just a few sentences. Whilst trying to be concise, you suddenly realise how powerful the right words in the right order can be – and how it can all go wrong by simply picking the wrong one. So I was really pleased to receive tickets for Letters Live from friends in New York as a birthday gift.

The Letters Live show was an idea born from the book ‘Letters Of Note’ by Shaun Usher. The book contains a collection of letters written by a variety of people; ranging from Gandhi pleading with Hitler to avoid his current path to war, to one from John Peel to Matthew Bannister complaining that his BBC Radio 1 show was to be shortened by an hour for a drum and bass programme. The book transports you from the laugh out loud to the tear enducing; from the White House to the London Board of Censorship and everything in between.

The concept to create a live show from the international best seller was an idea formed in a pub that has gone on a journey from Edinburgh to LA and from Hay on Wye to the Jungle Camp in Calais. No two shows are the same with different performers reading different letters each night. When you buy a ticket you don’t know who or what you will hear but you do know you will laugh, cry and wonder at how wordsmiths can remind us of feelings and events that we haven’t witnessed; giving us a very personal insight into moments in time that we have only heard about from afar.

The event was at Freemasons’ Hall, a building that quite possibly could have stolen the show if it wasn’t for the quality of performances we witnessed. The hall is a powerful looking, solid piece of architecture decorated with beautiful details and it provided a magnificent auditorium for the words to be brought to life.

Freemasons Hall 2  Freemasons Hall  Letters Live 3

The night started with Jamie Cullum performing Fats Waller, ‘I’m gonna sit right down and write myself a letter’. It set the tone beautifully as Alison Steadman took to the stage to do her best George Bernard Shaw impression, reading a letter to the Times about how a trip to the Opera was ruined by the sight of a woman wearing a seagull nailed to her head.

A highlight was Sophie Dahl reading a self-penned letter she had written to two young men from the Calais Jungle that had made their way to London where she apologised for all they had and were still going through. The beautiful words cut through the recent Brexit talk on immigration and struck a note with everyone in the auditorium. Two other performers both under ten struck the same poignant chord; one reading a letter to Obama from a young American boy asking for a Syrian child he had seen on the news to be delivered to his family so they could look after him and share their toys. The second young boy took to the stage to read another self-penned note he had written to Teresa May about children in the refugee camp. The message was driven home even harder and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house as his words spoke of a maturity greater than the small boy we saw before us trying to make a difference in a confusing and scary world. He saw the problem as simple and the solution as even more simple. The audience were left contemplating why the politicians are making it so complicated.

Lighter moments usually involved Noel Fielding who brought the house down reading his letters so eloquently after announcing he was in fact dyslexic. A letter from Spike Milligan, to George Harrison inviting the Beatle to his funeral and yet more laughter coming from Amanda Abbington (in shoes that stole the show if Twitter is to be believed) reading Tina Fey’s rebukes to her online trolls. These were so witty and cutting, it showed another side of the written word now that we are in the digital age.

The show was closed with Jamie Cullum again taking to the stage beating out a rhythm on the piano breaking into ‘I Got a Woman’ and then ‘Blackbird’.

As part of the event you could write a letter during the intermission and put it in a postbox at the venue. All letters are delivered anywhere in the world and as we took our seats for the second half the postbox was full with all of the paper used. At the start of the year I started writing letters to a friend who has given up his job and moved to Spain for the year. He hasn’t gone totally off grid but a letter seemed like a nice way to communicate and I start all of the letters with ‘I hope this letter finds you well’ – this makes me feel like I am corresponding to an acquaintance in a different era and normally draw a picture on the envelope of something I discuss in the letters. He has said he really looks forward to the correspondence despite its tendency to be a load of gibberish and I have to admit I enjoy receiving the response. I really enjoy the act of sitting at the table to write, putting my phone away and putting down in words what I have done this last month. I highly recommend letter writing, it’s like therapy only a lot cheaper. My husband and I had a truly wonderful and inspiring evening. As Toby Jones said about the show “We are listening to what we aren’t meant to read“.

And for my next letter? A letter to the friends in New York thanking them for the incredible gift of tickets to Letters Live. Who knows, maybe one day it will be read out in Freemasons Hall in London by Noel Fielding.

For more information on upcoming Letters Live events check out their website

Davey Podmore at letters live

Davey Podmore – Creative Director