‘From sobering to hilarious’: Letters Live – International Women’s Day (Online review)

In London theatre, Online shows, Opinion, Plays, Reviews by John ChapmanLeave a Comment

Following the release of two compilation “best of” videos earlier in the year, the Letters Live project returns for another outing in celebration of International Women’s Day. These are mostly collected from the three live shows mounted to mark the occasion previously across several years and in diverse locations. The last of these occurred on 8 March last year just before everything shut down; it was used to close the 10th anniversary of the Women of the World Festival at the Southbank Centre, London and WOW will be the recipient of any donations made on the back of this selection.

If you know the project, you’ll be familiar with the format. Performers are given a letter to read aloud; these may be topical, historical, serious or comic and can be general or on a specific theme. In this particular instance, of course, the connection is that they are by, about and often performed by women though actually there are a couple by men and performed as such. There are letters from mothers to daughters and daughters to mothers, from sisters and other relatives as well as those between friends. Occasionally we have the author performing their own piece but mostly this is about interpreting the communications of others and although some of these authors are recognisable most are not, at least instantly so. There appears to be no individual or overall director and I think the readers are left to make their own choices about how each item is delivered.

The first half of the programme is particularly sobering as it deals with some big issues including the sexual abuse perpetrated by Harvey Weinstein in an open letter to Hollywood written and read by Rose McGowan. There are also some well-placed thoughts on the subject of abortion written by Italian journalist Italo Calvino and read by Jordan Stephens.

However increasingly humour is introduced into the mix with Gillian Anderson as Margaret Mead advising her sister about sexual matters and a particularly hilarious turn from Olivia Colman addressing the man who has sent her a picture of his penis. Best of all is Caitlin Moran’s mix of humour and love as she tells her teenage daughter what to expect out of life. Moran has the advantage of reading her own work but, even so, she actually manages to outperform some of the more experienced speakers. The show is brought to a close with an eerie and resonant version of Kate Bush’s ‘Running Up That Hill’ performed by Roxanne Tataei.

The selection of letters presented is both interesting and appropriate although perhaps not quite as fulfilling as the previous releases which have a wider range of content and performers. If you’re new to Letters Live, you might find it best to start with one of these two venue themed selections before moving on. You can also use the various single clips available across the You Tube channel to make your own selection and programme them accordingly. And if you don’t like that idea you could always make further suggestions by writing them a letter…

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John Chapman
John Chapman works as a freelance education consultant, writer and copy editor. Prior to this, he was an Assistant Headteacher specialising in English and Drama. John first took to the stage as a schoolboy pretending to be a Latin frog. Decades later, he has been involved with 150+ productions, usually as an actor or director. He is currently a member of Tower Theatre in Stoke Newington, London. In 2016, he was in their “mechanicals” team that worked as part of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s A Midsummer Night's Dream: A Play For The Nation, appearing both at the Barbican and in Stratford-upon-Avon. In 2004, he served as a panellist on the Olivier Awards; he is currently an Offies assessor. He reviews for a variety of websites, writes his own independent blog 2ndFromBottom about his theatrical life.
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John Chapman on RssJohn Chapman on Twitter
John Chapman
John Chapman works as a freelance education consultant, writer and copy editor. Prior to this, he was an Assistant Headteacher specialising in English and Drama. John first took to the stage as a schoolboy pretending to be a Latin frog. Decades later, he has been involved with 150+ productions, usually as an actor or director. He is currently a member of Tower Theatre in Stoke Newington, London. In 2016, he was in their “mechanicals” team that worked as part of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s A Midsummer Night's Dream: A Play For The Nation, appearing both at the Barbican and in Stratford-upon-Avon. In 2004, he served as a panellist on the Olivier Awards; he is currently an Offies assessor. He reviews for a variety of websites, writes his own independent blog 2ndFromBottom about his theatrical life.

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