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Stars of stage and screen bring Letters Live to the International Festival

Letters written by Nick Cave, Leonard Cohen, Yoko Ono and Evelyn Waugh were amongst those brought to life at the Edinburgh International Festival yesterday by stars of the stage and screen including actors Sanjeev Bhaskar, Ian McShane, Meera Syal, Robert Webb and Harriet Walter, comedian Al Murray and the First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon for two performances of Letters Live at Edinburgh’s King’s Theatre.

A performance phenomenon that has captured the imagination of audiences since 2013, Letters Live is a celebration of the enduring power of written correspondence, created and developed by independent publishing house Canongate and inspired by Shaun Usher’s best-selling Letters of Note series and Simon Garfield’s To the Letter.

The star-studded line-up of actors, comedians, musicians, politicians and writers remained a closely guarded secret until the curtain went up at yesterday’s shows and in celebration of the art of letter writing, they brought to the stage live performances of correspondences from across the centuries and around the world.

The evening also featured readings of letters written by schoolchildren from Edinburgh who have taken part in Blueprint for the Future, a project that forms part of the International Festival’s year-round work with schools in the city. Inspired by Letters Live, the creative writing and visual art project asks teenagers from secondary schools across Edinburgh to consider how they might impact the future through writing imagined letters from their future selves.  The five selected letters were read by Xanthe Harris, Malachy Harris, Stella McGregor, Oscar Bickmore and Grace Bickmore.

The full list of letters and performers are below:

7.00pm

Kelvin Jones - Love Letter (live music)
Sanjeev Bhaskar - George Bernard Shaw to The Times “The spectacle sickened me”, and Don to his wife “To my ever-loving wife”
Harriet Walter - Mary Grant to A. Walker “Fortunately, I had my new radio”, and Bette Davis to B.D. Hyman “It’s up to you”
John Niven - Nick Cave to MTV “My muse is not a horse”
Kate Dickie - JK Rowling to Sacia Flowers “I will treasure your letter” (with Grace), and The Connell family to the Ciulla family “Our Frank”
Ian McShane - Pete Muggins to Abraham Lincoln “God damn”, and Bill Baxley to Edward R. Fields “Kiss my ass”
Louise Brealey - Laura Dern to her daughter “The story comes from within you”, Chris Baker and Bessie More “My Dear Bessie” (with Ferdinand Kingsley), and Yoko Ono to New York State Division of Parole “My husband did not deserve this”
Clint Dyer - James Baldwin to his nephews “My Dungeon Shook”, and Jack Lemmon to Walter Matthau “The Cat Ranch”
Ferdinand Kingsley - Roald Dahl to his mother “A frivolous note”, and Chris Baker and Bessie More “My Dear Bessie” (with Louise Brealey)
Meera Syal - Continental Airlines passenger “Seat 29E”, and Dora Carrington to Gerald Brenan “An absurd accident”
Grace, Oscar, Stella, Malaky and Xanthe - Letters from Blueprint for the Future project
Eddi Reader - Dear John (live music)

10.00pm

Eddi Reader - Robert Burns, AE Fond Kiss (Letters leading into song) (live music), and Patti Smith to Robert Mapplethorpe “The most beautiful work of all”
John Niven - Robert Burns to a critic “Thou Eunuch of Language” 
Al Murray - Evelyn Waugh to Laura Waugh “This is quite true”, and Edward “Tiger Mike” Davis to his staff “Tiger Oil Memos”
Louise Brealey - Patsy Clarke to Jesse Helms “AIDS is not a disgrace, it is a TRAGEDY”, and Edith Sitwell to Cecil Beaton “Meeting Picasso”
Robert Webb - Beatles fan to Nike, Inc. “Thank you, I hope you choke”, David Lavelle to The Telegraph “What do you want from life?”, and Fred Allen to the State of New York Insurance Department “Five accidents in two minutes” 
Nicola Sturgeon - EB White to the children of Troy “Books are people”
Richard Holloway - Sheriff Anwar to Julie and Brian “We all make mistakes”, and Lucian Freud to Lynn Barber “I do occasionally eat” 
Ferdinand Kingsley - Simon Fallowfield to Mary Foster “I have my eye on you”
Meera Syal - Rose Schlösinger to Marianne Schlösinger “Thinking of you to the end”, Leonard Cohen to Marianne Ihlen “I am so close behind you” (with Sanjeev Bhaskar)
Tam Dean Burn - J. D. Fergusson to Margaret Morris “Let me have artists for friends”, and Tom Waits to The Nation “It’s a virus”
Sanjeev Bhaskar - Carl Jung to James Joyce “A string of veritable psychological peaches”, Leonard Cohen to Marianne Ihlen “I am so close behind you” (with Meera Syal), and “DO NOT be so bloody vulnerable”.
Nick Moran - The FBI to Martin Luther King “Your end is approaching” 
Clint Dyer - Jimi Hendrix to his dad – “I’m still here, trying to make it”
Ian McShane - Groucho Marx to Warner Brothers “We were brothers long before you were”
Harriet Walter - Rachel Carson to Dorothy Freeman “Dear One”
Kelvin Jones - Message in a Bottle (live music) 

See Al Murray reading Evelyn Waugh to Laura Waugh “This is quite true” below. 

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