Huge names for Charleston Festival’s 35th anniversary edition

Judi Dench, Lenny Henry, David Nicholls and Nicola Sturgeon are among the guests confirmed for Charleston Festival’s 35th anniversary edition.
Bill Nighy (contributed pic)Bill Nighy (contributed pic)
Bill Nighy (contributed pic)

One of the UK’s longest-running literature festivals, it returns for its 35th year between May 16-27 in the grounds of the house and gardens at Charleston in Firle. Tickets go on sale from Thursday, February 29.

Nathaniel Hepburn, director of Charleston, said: “For this anniversary edition, the festival presents one of its most ambitious line-ups yet, bringing together today's leading voices in visual arts, literature, politics, music and more.

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“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.” 

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.”

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.

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A 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.

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.

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