Letters Live: Epistolary Joy At Freemasons' Hall

Tiffany Pritchard
By Tiffany Pritchard Last edited 42 months ago
Letters Live: Epistolary Joy At Freemasons' Hall ★★★★★ 5
Benedict Cumberbatch reading in Letters Live, Image courtesy of Letters Live
Benedict Cumberbatch reading in Letters Live, Image courtesy of Letters Live
Image courtesy of Letters Live
Image courtesy of Letters Live
Louise Brealey reading in Letters Live, Image courtesy of Letters Live
Louise Brealey reading in Letters Live, Image courtesy of Letters Live

Londonist Rating: ★★★★★

Been hearing about this fancy 'letters reading' event, and wondering what it's all about?

For one more night, independent book publisher Canongate is hosting Letters Live at the stunning art deco landmark The Freemasons' Hall — a meeting place for masons since 1775. Now in its third year, the event brings together a star-studded gathering of artists to read letters as iconic as the recipe for drop scones sent by Queen Elizabeth II to President Eisenhower, and Gandhi’s appeal to Hitler for calm on the eve of World War II.

Each night promises a new line-up, both in its programming and selection of A-list talent. A recent sold-out showing boasted powerful performances from Olivia Coleman reading (in her best Montana accent) fan letters to Elvis Presley; star-on-the-rise Tom Sturridge as an enraged Mark Twain frustrated by a bogus medicine salesman; author Andrew O'Hagan expounding a comical exchange between controversial mag Private Eye and Granada's TV lawyers and a feisty Samantha Bond reading Tina Fey's response to offensive fan mail.

While tonight's line-up remains a secret, what is for certain is that the immensely talented and seemingly all-pervasive (look out for his life-size chocolate doppelgänger at Westfield Shopping Centre) Benedict Cumberbatch will be reading.

His Sherlock co-star Louise Brealey will also be on hand, with the two acting out My Dear Bessie: A Love Story in Letters, an anthology of love letters written between North Africa-posted RAF man Chris Barker and his former colleague Bessie Moore during the second world war.

If literary antics aren't your bag, the two-hour show is still worth every penny of the (£42.80) ticket price. How often do you get to sit in an intimate setting, amidst Grade II listed interiors and hear The Imitation Game actor re-enact Alan Turing or even Robert Crumb in an assault on Mats Gustafsson's free jazz album? You might just get to listen to singer/songwriter Tom Odell belt out tunes like Nick Cave and The Bad Seed's Love Letter as well.

Perhaps most important of all — how often do people write letters? An email, a text, an instant message — it's not the same, as we're reminded by the show's inspiration Letters of Note, the bestselling anthology compiled by Shaun Usher.

As Cumberbatch says in his own words:

"Letters Live makes us pause and imagine the lives behind the letters read and the circumstances of their origin. The relationship between the audience, reader and writer helps deepen our understanding of these inspiring artefacts of the human condition. They are windows into the love, beauty, pain, and humour of their creators and recipients."

Letters Live runs for one more night: 4 April. Tickets £42.80. Show starts at 7.30pm at the Freemasons' Hall, Great Queen Street, Covent Garden.

Last Updated 04 April 2015