Famous faces give voice to historic letters at this literacy charity event


When was the last time you wrote a letter? You can probably remember the last time you posted a tweet or updated your Facebook status, so written correspondence now feels like a thing of the past. However, some familiar faces are helping bring letters back into the present.

Tuesday saw the first night of the latest Letters Live event, where historic letters are read out by a string of famous actors, musicians and writers at Freemasons' Hall in London.

Letters Live.

You might recognise Noma Dumezweni as Hermione in the current stage production of Harry Potter And The Cursed Child. She ditched her wand and cloak, instead enchanting the audience with her reading of Hellen Keller's 1932 missive to a doctor describing the Empire State Building.

In the letter, the deaf-blind author described being "whizzed" up the tower and how constant darkness makes you realise "how divine a thing vision is".

Veteran actor Michael Palin drew a roar of laughter when reading a producer's letter on making cuts from Monty Python And The Holy Grail to secure an appropriate age rating, recounting: "I would like to retain 'fart in your general direction'."

Letters Live.

Not to be outdone, Jude Law put on his best American accent to read Frank Sinatra's attack on a "pimp" Chicago newspaper columnist whose "source of information stinks".

Inspired by Shaun Usher's best-selling Letters Of Note series and Simon Garfield's book To The Letter, Letters Live sees actors and performers read out literary correspondence to a live audience.

Letters Live.

The event was first held in December 2013 and is now established as a sell-out fixture. It has since travelled to Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Los Angeles and even the Calais Jungle.

It was started by the publishing house Canongate to raise money for literacy charities and to celebrate the "pain, joy, wisdom and humour" of the written word.

Charities supported by the event - which runs for five nights from October 4 to 8 - include the Ministry Of Stories, Help Refugees and First Story.

Jude Law at a previous event at the Calais Jungle

Canongate chief executive Jamie Byng said: "Letters cast powerful spells. When you sort thoughts into the written word, you suspend thoughts in time."

Other speakers included comedian Omid Djalili, actor Charlie Heaton and satirist Julian Clary.