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Letters Live

King's Theatre
Four stars

The idealised Edinburgh skyline that formed the back-drop to this Edinburgh International Festival edition of the rolling compendium of readings from celebrated bon mots down the centuries was an all too fitting image. Edinburgh, as head of Canongate Books Jamie Byng pointed out in his introduction, was UNESCO's first city of literature, and those steeped in its bookish heritage understand what words are worth more than many. This is one of the reasons why the proceeds of the night were being donated to the Craigmillar Literary Trust and the Scottish Book Trust, both fine organisations that literally spread the word at every level.

It was a soulful version of Nick Cave's song, Love Letter, performed by Kelvin Jones, that opened a night that focused on standing up to intolerance by way of hand-me-down wisdom. Louise Brealey read Laura Dern's letter to her twelve year old daughter, while Clint Dyer presented James Baldwin's 1963 missive to his nephew. Kate Dickie performed the words of JK Rowling in response to an orphaned Harry Potter fan, and a group of young people read letters from their future selves.

There was levity too, as Ian McShane let fly with a furious letter of complaint to Abraham Lincoln, as well as an American politician's pithy put down of the Ku Klux Klan. Ferdinand Kingsley's rendering of Roald Dahl's drunken 1939 letter to his mother also put demagogues in their place. The evening ended as it began, with a song, as Eddi Reader gave a moving rendition of Dear John on a night that should inspire all in attendance to find a pen pal of their own with immediate effect.

The Herald, August 29th

ends

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