Starry line-up announced for Charleston this summer

Charleston has announced a star-studded line-up for its summer outdoor events season 2021.

Helena Bonham Carter
Helena Bonham Carter

Spokeswoman Tracy Jones said: “Drawing on the rich history of the house and its occupants, this June to September’s outdoor programme brings Britain’s leading artists, writers and thinkers on art, film, literature, music and society to Sussex.

“Featuring famous writers Antonia Fraser, Jeanette Winterson and John Cooper Clarke renowned fashion editor Alexandra Shulman, artist Jeremy Deller and Hollywood actor Helena Bonham-Carter, Charleston’s wide-ranging summer programme, on a new outdoor stage designed by Pup Architects, explores such diverse themes as 19th-century women’s rights, artificial intelligence (AI) and economist John Maynard Keynes as you have never seen him before.

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“Taking place on new purpose-built, open-air stage named The Yard; the series of events begin on Friday 4 June with British-Ghanaian writer and photographer Caleb Azumah Nelson. The hugely talented author of the critically acclaimed Open Water presents a fresh way of looking at his generation’s way of documenting love and relationships, while interweaving contemporary references to music, writing and photography.

“On Thursday 10 June there’s a chance to hear award-winning historian Antonia Fraser in conversation with Juliet Nicolson, as they celebrate the extraordinary life and work of the 19th-century women’s rights campaigner Caroline Norton, whose boldness and daring helped to secure legal provisions for married women now taken for granted, such as the right of a mother to have access to her own children, with the 1839 implementation of the Infant Custody Act.

“In one of her first live performances since lockdowns began, poet, activist and performer Salena Godden presents an exclusive gig based on her life-affirmed, fire-starter of a novel, Mrs Death Misses Death on Saturday 19 June. The novel tells the story of death personified, Mrs Death: a black, working-class woman who shape-shifts and does her work unseen. Full of caustic wit, hope, poetry and prose, this evening with Salena Godden promises to be a powerful, energetic, and re-invigorating solo performance.

“Making the connection between fashion, art and society, will be Alexandra Shulman, former editor-in-chief of British Vogue and fashion journalist and art curator Charlie Porter, as they consider the thorny question ‘Who says fashion is skin deep?’, on Sunday 27 June. Together, Alexandra and Charlie will contemplate the significance of what we wear: as individuals in our daily lives, and in the lives of artists throughout the centuries.

“Britain’s best loved and most important performance poet John Cooper Clarke is as vital now as he was in the '70s when he toured with The Sex Pistols to The Clash. His biting, satirical, political and very funny verse, delivered in a unique rapid-fire performance style, will be coming to Charleston on Tuesday 13 July.

“In 2012, Turner Prize-winning contemporary artist Jeremy Deller brilliantly combined aspects of Britain’s history, culture and sense of humour with Sacrilege, his inflatable reproduction of Stonehenge. In many ways, it is the perfect evocation of what he will be asking the audience at Charleston to ponder when he appears on Thursday 22 July; ‘What happens when you take art out of the gallery?’ Join Jeremy as he discusses with Helen Marriage, artistic director of Artichoke, where art belongs and why we should break down the traditional physical barriers dictating who, how and where it can happen.

“Jeanette Winterson needs little introduction. While her debut novel, Oranges are Not the Only Fruit was a semi-autobiographical account of growing up in North West England, her latest work, 12 Bytes: How We Got Here. Where We Might Go Next is a collection of essays that explore the implications of artificial intelligence, in terms of how we may live and love in the near future and beyond. This is an evening not to be missed on Sunday 8 August.

Economics and Keynesian Theory may not ordinarily be considered the touchstones for slapstick comedy but this is exactly what is on offer on Friday 13 August. In Keynes, Clowning & Serious Economics, award-winning comedian Elf Lyons, will perform a riotous lecture on What Economics Is before handing the microphone to her father, Dr Gerard Lyons (former Chief Economic Advisor to the then Mayor of London, Boris Johnson), for his insights into John Maynard Keynes' influence on his own professional life as an economist working at the coal face.

“At Charleston – where Keynes often spent weekends with artists Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell – the Lyons will reflect on their shared interest in Keynes, the different ways in which they've worked with economic theory, its place in their own relationship and today’s wider society.

“In 1925 Keynes married Russian ballerina Lydia Lopokova and the couple settled at Tilton, just up the lane from Charleston. Clearly besotted with each other, they exchanged passionate love letters which now find expression in a specially commissioned piece performed by Academy Award-nominated actor Helena Bonham Carter and fellow actor Tobias Menzies, who most recently played Prince Philip in the smash Netflix series, The Crown.

"Compiled by Charleston's reader-in-residence, Holly Dawson, Lydia & Maynard (Friday 9 July) is full of humour, tenderness and passion, and charts the happiest and healthiest marriage in all of the Bloomsbury group.

“On Friday 6 August, prizewinning, Booker-shortlisted author Elif Shafak will discuss her new novel, The Island of Missing Trees, a rich, magical tale of belonging and identity, love and trauma, memory and amnesia, human-induced destruction of nature, and, finally, renewal.

“Bestselling author and How To Fail host Elizabeth Day presents her new novel, Magpie, on Sunday 5 September. A tense, twisting tale of mothers and children, envy and possession, and the dangers of getting everything you’ve ever dreamed of.

“Audiences at The Yard this summer can also enjoy Jo Brand in conversation with Deborah Frances-White (Wednesday 8 September); Shirley Collins in conversation with Stewart Lee (Wednesday 7 July) and a fascinating discussion about the power of the portrait between Frieze editor-at-large Jennifer Higgie and Alicia Foster, associate curator on Charleston’s Nina Hamnett exhibition (Wednesday 11 August). On 10 September join Ursula Martinez for My Stories Your Emails, combining spoken word, live art, character comedy and stand-up for a comical and uncompromising exploration of identity, fame, obsession, censorship, loneliness, sex, human failure, the internet … and what happens when your private parts go public!”

Tickets for all events go on sale at 10am, Tuesday 11 May on the Charleston website (, with a limited number of £10 tickets available for event goers aged under 30.

Susannah Stevenson, artistic director: Charleston Festival, Small Wonder Festival and Literary Programmes at Charleston, said: “After a long, quiet year at Charleston, we are delighted to welcome audiences back for our summer outdoor season; a vibrant, engaging and thought-provoking programme whose variety, depth and sense of fun is the ideal antidote to distance. I can’t wait to see our specially commissioned outdoor stage brought to life by the likes of John Cooper Clarke, Helena Bonham Carter, Elif Shafak, Jeremy Deller, Kei Miller, Jo Brand, Elizabeth Day and Ursula Martinez. The summer-long programme of events is the perfect occasion for us to come together to celebrate the diversity of artforms, stories, styles, and histories that make up today’s society, just as it inspired the vast range of artists, thinkers, writers and economists who came to this unique place a century ago.”

For a full list of all the events and performers, plus breaking updates, along with ticket availability and prices, visit and follow @CharlestonTrust on Twitter, @charlestontrust on Instagram, like the Charleston Facebook page & subscribe to the Charleston Trust YouTube channel.