Liberating ideas

Letters Live! at Hay

A stellar cast of actors, comedians and writers read letters drawn from Shaun Usher’s bestselling Letters of Note and Simon Garfield’s To the Letter for Letters Live! at the Hay Festival.

Letters Live! at Hay

Shaun Usher, author of Letters of Note

In the Friday gig, actor of the moment Benedict Cumberbatch read several pieces including the profoundly moving letter from Ted Hughes to his son Nicholas. Other highlights included Chris Evans reading Robert Pirosh’s amazing job application ‘I like words’, and Patrick Kennedy (Downton Abbey, War Horse) reading Elvis’s slightly unhinged letter to Nixon. Kennedy returned the next morning for the second gig where he read Matt Stone’s hilarious (and obscene) memo about the cuts they’d greed to make to the the South Park movie. He was joined by Sherlock star Louise Brearley who reduced many in the audience to tears with her intensely beautiful reading of Virginia Woolf’s letter to her husband Leonard shortly before her suicide. Equally moving was Rob Brydon’s reading of Richard Burton’s farewell note to Elizabeth Taylor after their second divorce. Light relief was provided by legendary TV producer John Lloyd in his splendid rendition of the famous ‘Mustapha Kunt’ letter, and Booker-winning novelist Ian McEwan was a convincing Mark Twain. But the star turn was once again Cumberbatch, who closed the set with Kurt Vonnegut’s magnificent epistle to a school board that had burned one of his books.

Letters Live! at Hay

Benedict Cumberbatch

Many seasoned Hay hands, including the Festival director Peter Florence, believed they were two of the very best events in the 27-year history of the festival. That combined with Shaun’s appearance on The One Show were enough send Letters of Note to no 1 on Amazon on Saturday evening: an amazing, if richly deserved, achievement.