Lineup confirmed for Charleston Festival’s 35th anniversary edition

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Charleston announces line-up for this year’s Charleston Festival

Charleston has today announced the line-up for this year’s Charleston Festival. One of the UK’s longest-running literature festivals, it returns for its 35th year between 16 and 27 May 2024 in the grounds of the house and gardens at Charleston in Firle. For this anniversary edition, the festival presents one of its most ambitious lineups yet, bringing together today's leading voices in visual arts, literature, politics, music and more.

Highlights include a special event in which Judi Dench will look back on an extraordinary career with her close friend, collaborator and fellow actor, Bill Nighy. In an original performance, the astute, fierce and funny letters exchanged between the writer Virginia Woolf and her brother-in-law, the art critic Clive Bell, will be brought to life by acclaimed British actor Toby Jones. BAFTA winning actor Helena Bonham Carter will read extracts from historian David Kynaston’s forthcoming book A Northern Wind: 1962-1965, including from the diaries of her grandmother, the writer, politician and close confidant of Winston Churchill, Violet Bonham Carter. To close the festival, Peep Show and Succession creator Jesse Armstrong will be in conversation with co-writer Lucy Prebble considering how satire can help keep us sane in a post-truth world.

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Melissa Perkins, Head of Programme and Events at Charleston, said: “We’re excited to present a festival for 2024 that is truly multi-genre, and which features some of the most exceptional writers, artists and thinkers of our time. At Charleston Festival we don’t just stage talks. We curate original event concepts with unmissable performance elements, bring together minds from across disciplines for surprising conversations, and commission exclusive new content. Our programme this year is brimming with trailblazing talent and must-see moments that make this anniversary edition unmissable.”

Judi Dench by Robert WilsonJudi Dench by Robert Wilson
Judi Dench by Robert Wilson

Each year, Charleston Festival commissions and curates a series of original productions. The 2024 edition will see Bryony Kimmings, writer, comedian and creator of multiple hit touring shows including the critically acclaimed I’m a Phoenix, Bitch!, deliver this year’s Charleston Monologue, a reflection on our times written immediately in the weeks before the festival, titled Freakosystem. For this year’s My Life in Art event, internationally renowned photographer Don McCullin will be in conversation with photography critic Sean O’Hagan, reflecting on the moral challenges of capturing images of the harshest realities of conflict. In the What I Believe series, inspired by E. M. Forster’s prominent 1939 essay, Lenny Henry will discuss the values he stands by, formed over one remarkable life and career. Leading barrister Michael Mansfield KC, who has worked on some of the most controversial cases of our times including the Birmingham Six, the striking miners, and Grenfell, will deliver this year’s Jeremy Hutchinson Memorial Lecture.

A special multi-art form event in the format of Charleston’s popular Music + Word, will reimagine two landmarks of modernism, Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring and Debussy’s The Afternoon of a Faun, featuring dance,readings and a live performance by celebrated pianists Melvyn Tan and Churen Li.

A further unmissable performance marking the centenary of American writer and civil rights activist James Baldwin's birth will re-create the legendary debate he had with William F Buckley, featuring star of It's a Sin, Omari Douglas, performing as Baldwin, and actor Russell Tovey as Buckley.

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The 2024 Charleston Festival programme involves leading international literary figures such as Colm Tóibín, Marlon James, David Mitchell, Marilynne Robinson, Val McDermid, Eleanor Catton, and Naomi Alderman. A special event for both children and grown-ups will celebrate the magic of children’s literature, featuring Joseph Coelho, Lenny Henry, Joanna Lumley and a very special surprise guest.

Influential figures in the fields of art and design including iconic British artist duo Gilbert & George in conversation with Nicholas Cullinan, Director of the National Portrait Gallery; genre-defying artist, designer and activist Es Devlin; artist, potter and cultural icon Grayson Perry; renowned British architect Thomas Heatherwick, and acclaimed author and writer Olivia Laing in conversation with landscape designer Dan Pearson.

Key political figures and commentators will join this year’s line-up, including journalist Emily Maitlis, The Guardian’s parliamentary sketch writer John Crace, comedian Rosie Holt, whose satirical videos of a fake politician went viral in lockdown, and Baillie Gifford Prize-winner John Vaillant. Musician and activist Billy Bragg will be in conversation with Green Party MP Caroline Lucas, discussing national identity and whether patriotism can be reclaimed from the far right.

To commemorate 75 years since the publication of George Orwell’s 1984, this year’s edition of the Charleston Festival will feature a special programming strand called Visions of Tomorrow, uncovering what the future might look like 35 years from today with three events focussing on money, AI and global power.

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As part of its family programme the festival has a host of special encounters with some familiar children’s authors including Ben Miller, Chris Riddell, and Michael Morpurgo, a doodling session with Liz Pichon, creator of the bestselling Tom Gates series, and a series of workshops including the opportunity to make paper boats to sail on the pond at Charleston. Returning for the second year is a programme of writing workshops for adults that will take place in the Orchard Tent as well as a new Book Group, taking place everyday at 12pm.

Nathaniel Hepburn, Director of Charleston, said: “For 35 years, Charleston Festival has taken place in the grounds of the house and studio at Charleston in Firle, a setting that is always memorable for our speakers and visitors alike. This year’s roster promises to be our most exciting yet, delivering new ideas and driving debate on the most pertinent topics of our day – a fitting legacy to the Bloomsbury group who, at Charleston, imagined society differently.”

Charleston Friend+, Patrons and Benefactors get access to priority booking for the festival, which opens on Tuesday 27th February. Under 30s members can benefit from discounted £10 tickets to all main festival events. Tickets go on general sale on Thursday 29th February.

Explore the full programme for Charleston Festival 2024:

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