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Review: LETTERS LIVE, Royal Albert Hall

An incredible celebration of the written word

Review: LETTERS LIVE, Royal Albert Hall

Review: LETTERS LIVE, Royal Albert Hall Letters Live is a simple concept: some famous people reading out a variety of letters. But it is so much more than that. In a time when people click a button rather than pick up a pen, the event not only highlights excellent performances, but also the power that letters can hold.

Letters Live premiered in 2013 and quickly established itself as a powerful and original event format, attracting well-known performers who bring remarkable letters to life.

The lineup is never publicised in advance, although I can imagine that there is never a lack of willing participants, and the carefully curated content ranges from comedy, to tragedy, to entertainment and intimacy. Parts of the show feel almost intrusive, as the contents are so personal to the writer and recipient. Many of the letters are from well-known figures such as Queen Victoria and Zelda Fitzgerald, but some are from ordinary people, giving incredible snapshots into their lives and opinions.

Perhaps the most touching letter was that read by Louise Brealey by Czech politician Milada Horáková to her 16-year-old daughter before being executed in 1950, after she was arrested by the Czech secret police on suspicion of plotting to overthrow the Communist regime. The letter gives gentle advice on friendship, love and facial washing. It is simple, yet so heartfelt and, in the context, heartbreaking.

MP Jess Philips appeared to read a short, pithy letter sent into the Guardian by reader Tony Mabbott, flagging a potential typo in a headline above the photo of Boris Johnson: 'A dangerous cult now runs Britain'.

Clarke Peters and Miriam Margoyles almost took the roof off with their joint performance of letters between diarist Anaïs Nin and novelist Henry Miller, as they were in the midst of a passionate affair in 1932. The large screens projecting the action came into their own, as the small glances and eyebrow raises really added to the intense atmosphere.

Comedy came from many places: Tony Robinson conducted a fast and furiously funny rendition of a letter Lewis Carroll wrote to his eight-year-old niece. Another highlight came from Benedict Cumberbatch reading a selection of rejection letters written by playwright George Bernard Shaw to strangers seeking advice, an autograph or Shaw's presence at an event. "It would be easier and pleasanter to drown myself" was one of the more polite lines.

Salena Godden gave a brilliantly understated performance as she read Melissa Harris-Perry's deeply moving and highly personal letter to aspiring US senator Richard Mourdock, after he said he believed that abortion shouldn't be permitted, even after rape.

These performances, along with ones from Kit Harington, Denise Gough, Jordan Stephens, John Kerry and Himesh Patel and music from Tom Odell, Max Richter and Celeste, make for an absorbing and unique evening. The simplest ideas are so often the best; it makes you want to race home and write a letter to someone important to you.

The event always tries to do good, as well as entertain. This event has partnered with refugee charity Choose Love, who have raised over £50 million helping displaced people around the world.

To find out more about Choose Love, click here.

Letters Live is at the Royal Albert Hall tonight (28 October)

Image Credit: Letters Live

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From This Author - Aliya Al-Hassan

Aliya Al-Hassan is UK Managing Editor of BroadwayWorld. A London-based theatre critic and journalist, she has a life-long passion for the arts, with a focus on theatre and opera. She is a... (read more about this author)

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