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  • Writer's pictureFlea Market Love Letters

'DO': 10th Anniversary of Letters Live 2023.

If you squint, you'll see Benedict Cumberbatch's back several stories down as he read my favorite letter from the Letters Live series. I'm still recovering from (one of) this year's most incredible adventures. On November 16th, 2023 I attended the 10th Anniversary Letters Live event at the Royal Albert Hall.

I have watched the video of this performance countless times so to hear Cumberbatch perform it live was sensational. The vibe of the event was a little mystery show meets Oscars. The room would dim, a blue light washed over the thousands of us attending, and an omniscient narrator would set the context for the letter and then say 'Welcome [back] to the stage...'

When the narrator started to describe Sol LeWitt's 1965 letter to Eva Hesse I grabbed the railing. I cannot tell you what this letter has meant to me as a young creative professional. If I were to ever consider a tattoo, 'DO' may just well, do.

To sit amongst the red plush seats and quite literally feel Cumberbatch bring this letter to life -- differently yet familiar to his performance years earlier -- struck a spark in me.

Don't get me wrong...seeing:

  • Stephen Fry

  • Olivia Coleman

  • Woody Harrelson

  • Tobias Menzies

  • Gillian Anderson

  • Minnie Driver

...etc. all live was out of this world. The entire auditorium practically ripped apart when Fry was introduced. He strolled on to stage, a dapper cane in hand, and assumed his position at the podium with simple elegance and cool serenity. He read Joe Lycett's letter to Suella Braverman first, and then rejoined us to perform Nick Cave's lamentation on the robotic suffocation of creativity via ChatGPT, later.

When Olivia Coleman emerged from the curtained background and read about 'cremains', she giggled nervously before starting admitting that it was really quite intimidating to face the entire Royal Albert Hall of eyes. The relatability? Off the charts. The talent? Staggering.

There were many letters from World War II, a familiar topic for us here at Flea Market Love Letters, but none the less powerful for that. Benedict Cumberbatch and Louise Brealey revised their roles as wartime lovers (this recording is from 2 years ago). Louise's letter described the erotic tension of a relationship born between the pages of letters, never yet tested while Benedict's letter -- and in his performance -- conveyed the confliction of a deployed serviceman on furlough for such a short, sweet taste of home.

The evening opened with Cumberbatch strolling on stage in his velvet jacket with 'Choose Love' pin and delivering a simply electric performance as George Bernard Shaw decrying the dress code of a 20th century theater.

The 'Choose Love' theme of the evening was because of the Letters Live affiliation with the charity, which works with displaced and refugee individuals. Through the charity, people are able to purchase the necessary pieces of kit for a refugee aid bundle and have done so to the tune of £13 million since 2016.

Letters Live also had another partnership for the evening. Each seat in the enormous Royal Albert Hall was gifted a packet of Montblanc sponsored postcards. Before you ask, yes, I did delay my leaving to scurry around the hall and collect discarded bundles.

If you're looking for a dose of the magic from this series, now, I cannot recommend the 'Letters of Note' books nearly enough. It was during COVID that I read a letter a day from both the larger volumes and then set myself a number of 'monthly' challenges to read from their series on art, love, space, and more. I love this book series so much so that for my own wedding, we had a dear friend read out Steinbeck's letter to his son.

If this has whet your palette, and you are so inclined, the Letters Live team have announced their next event on March 6th 2024 in conjunction with the Women's Prize to mark International Women's Day. You can learn more, here.

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