A star-studded line-up at the Charleston Festival

The programme for this year’s Charleston Festival (May 15-25) has been announced.

Tuesday, 18th February 2020, 10:24 am
Updated Tuesday, 18th February 2020, 3:28 pm
Ai Weiwei. Photo by Ai Weiwei Studio

A star-studded lineup of artists, writers, thinkers and changemakers are set to discuss, debate and celebrate the best in art, literature, ideas and politics, past and present; just as the Bloomsbury group did around the Charleston dining room table 100 years ago.

Themes that weave through this year’s festival include: the interaction between art and politics, inspirational individuals who have challenged tradition and helped to drive change, the climate crisis, identity politics, surprising connections and collective biographies.

In a world première, actors Helena Bonham Carter and Tobias Menzies read the intense love letters that passed between Lydia Lopokova, star of the Ballets Russes, and brilliant economist John Maynard Keynes in a specially commissioned piece. Full of humour, tenderness and passion, this performance charts the happiest and healthiest marriage of the Bloomsbury group.

Salman Rushdie. Photo by Rachel Eliza Griffiths

Born in China to a poet who was denounced during the Anti-Rightist Movement, Ai Weiwei is a global citizen, artist and thinker. From architecture to installations, social media to documentaries, Weiwei uses a wide range of media to examine society and its values; actively challenging the idea that art is a separate discipline, unrelated to the banality of daily life. In a rare appearance, Ai Weiwei discusses his work, creative practice and art that cannot be contained.

Master storyteller Salman Rushdie returns to Charleston Festival for the first time in more than a decade to discuss his life and work. Just as Miguel de Cervantes wrote Don Quixote to satirise the culture of his time, Rushdie’s latest novel, Quichotte, takes the reader on a wild ride through a country on the verge of moral and spiritual collapse.

Former President of the Supreme Court Lady Hale reflects on her legal career and celebrates Jeremy Hutchinson’s life and impact in a special memorial lecture for Charleston Festival. Born into the heart of what became the Bloomsbury group, Jeremy Hutchinson was one of the greatest advocates of his time who famously defended the publishers of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, as well as Christine Keeler and Soviet spy George Blake.

Since her early days as a journalist and feminist activist in the late 1960s, Gloria Steinem’s words heave helped generations to empower themselves and work together. Now, in a rare visit to the UK, the feminist icon comes to Charleston Festival for the first time to speak about her latest book, The Truth Will Set You Free, But First It Will P*** You Off! Thoughts on Life, Love and Rebellion.

Tobais Menzies

Activist, academic and award-winning writer Bernardine Evaristo explores both heritage and modern life in her considerable body of work, shedding new light on what it means to be British. Evaristo discusses with novelist Mike McCormack what draws writers to play with form in her first appearance at Charleston Festival.

There is a rare opportunity to hear award-winning dramatist Tom Stoppard in conversation with prize-winning playwright and director, Patrick Marber. Tom Stoppard’s epic yet intimate new play Leopoldstadt, directed by Patrick Marber, traces the trajectory of the Jewish community of Vienna.

Now in its 31st year, Charleston Festival is one of the oldest and most prestigious interdisciplinary festivals in the world. With around 100 speakers and 40 events staged over 10 days, the festival celebrates the creativity, intellectual curiosity, radicalism and openness of Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant, Virginia Woolf and the artists, writers and thinkers of the Bloomsbury group who all gathered at Charleston.

Festival goers under 30 can snap up tickets for just £10 when 1,000 tickets across all Charleston Festival events are released.

Adjoa Andoh. Photo by Christopher Bethell

Susannah Stevenson, artistic director (Charleston Festival, Small Wonder and Literary Programmes, The Charleston Trust), said: “This year’s Charleston Festival programme demonstrates that the Bloomsbury group’s spirit of creativity, questioning the norm and breaking new ground is not only alive and well, but kicking. The festival’s themes and content demonstrate that, like the Bloomsbury group, we are all connected to our social and intellectual context in a web of influences and intersections that cannot be ignored.”

Nathaniel Hepburn, director and chief Executive, The Charleston Trust, said: “The interdisciplinary conversations and extraordinary performances that Charleston Festival is known for are refreshed and revitalised this year. We know that Charleston’s loyal friends will find so much to enjoy in this programme and we also hope to welcome new audiences with exciting contemporary writers and thinkers, a more representative and diverse selection of speakers and our £10 tickets for under-30s.”

Priority booking opens on Wednesday, February 26, with tickets released on general sale on Thursday, March 5. You can purchase tickets online at www.charleston.org.uk/festival, by phone on 01323 815150, or in person at the Charleston Shop (Weds to Sun, 10am-5pm).

There is still time to join Charleston as a friend and enjoy exclusive access to tickets through priority booking; plus other benefits including unlimited free entry to the house, garden and exhibitions. To take part in this year’s priority booking, membership must be purchased by midnight on Sunday, February 23.

Bernardine Evaristo. Photo by Jennie Scott

Information about becoming a friend or supporter of Charleston can be found at charleston.org.uk/join-as-a-friend.

Further Charleston Festival highlights

Carol Ann Duffy curates an evening of poetry on the theme of the environment and artistic responses to the climate crisis.

Award-winning director Emma Rice reflects on her creative practice, driving change, and obstacles to “fighting the good fight”.

Leading experts Matt Frei and Peter Westmacott assess the state of US politics today with Emily Maitlis.

Celia Paul and William Feaver reflect on their memories of Lucian Freud and what it means to live an artist’s life.

Carol Ann Duffy

A playful retrospective of the BBC Radio 4 comedy Gloomsbury with Sue Limb, Alison Steadman and Nigel Planer.

Franco-Moroccan writer and journalist Leïla Slimani comes to Charleston for the first time to speak about her novels, beliefs and latest non-fiction book, Sex and Lies.

Tim Smit, known for his work on the Lost Gardens of Heligan and the Eden Project in Cornwall, explains why creating Edens wherever you are is important.

Jung Chang recounts the lives of the three Soong sisters from Shanghai, who each played a crucial role in shaping modern China.

Lemn Sissay and John Bird discuss overcoming obstacles and the importance of celebrating positive experiences.

Multi-million, bestselling author Kate Mosse reflects on writing her latest series of historical epics set in the French wars of religion.

Acclaimed actor and director Adjoa Andoh celebrates the 200th anniversary of Anne Brontë’s birth with the Scottish makar, novelist and poet Jackie Kay and award-winning graphic novelist Isabel Greenberg.

Maggi Hambling reflects on art across the generations in light of her late father Harry Hambling, a self-taught watercolour painter.

Polly Samson escapes to the bohemian heat and creativity of the Greek Island of Hydra, 1960, in her new book A Theatre for Dreamers.

Olivia Laing speaks to James Shapiro about art and politics, and political crises past and present.

Alexandra Shulman, former editor-in-chief of British Vogue, considers what clothes mean to us, and what they reveal about the society we live in.

Ricky Gervais heads to Brighton with SuperNature. Click here to read more.

Smash hit musical Waitress heads to Eastbourne’s Congress Theatre. Click here to read more.

An interview with Baxter Dury ahead of Hastings Fat Tuesday’s launch night. Click here to read more.

Gloria Steinem. Photo by Carly Romeo
Olivia Laing. Photo by Suki Dhanda
Helena Bonham Carter
Tim Smit. Photo by Chaz Oldham
Tom Stoppard. Photo by Matt Humphrey
Jung Chan. Photo by Aernout Zevenbergen