Charleston Festival doing virtual events this year

Peter Adams

The Charleston Festival are doing some virtual events.

From 9–11 April, Charleston Festival Edit presents three digital events with leading thinkers, writers and artists, interdisciplinary conversations, readings and performances that are the hallmark of Charleston Festival. One event will premiere on Charleston’s website each evening at 7pm (BST) and will be available for audiences to enjoy on demand until 16 May.

When Covid-19 forced Charleston to close its doors last March, its future was in serious doubt. With the charity’s usual income streams through ticket purchases to house tours, exhibitions and events frozen, Charleston launched an emergency appeal which attracted donations and grants from 2,673 people from around the world ensuring the charity’s survival. Charleston now plans to reopen on 19 May, but is bringing a weekend of digital events to keep audiences entertained on what is hoped to be the last weekend of lockdown.

Exploring art, economics, film, literature, music and society, the Charleston Festival Edit will give audiences a digital bite-sized snapshot of what the ten-day Charleston Festival normally looks like and which is usually held annually at Charleston in East Sussex in May.

The Waves: 90th Anniversary Performance is a special multidisciplinary event created by Charleston Festival’s Artistic Director, Susannah Stevenson, in partnership with the Brighton Philharmonic Orchestra and St Michael and All Angels Church in Berwick. It celebrates 90 years since the publication of Virginia Woolf’s book The Waves and combines readings from The Waves alongside extracts from Woolf’s letters and diaries, with music known to have inspired her writing.

Woolf’s words are brought to life by award-winning actor Harriet Walter (Killing Eve, Succession, Henry IV at Donmar Warehouse) and actor-writer Vera Chok (The Winter’s Tale for the Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company, Chimerica at the Almeida Theatre and for Channel4, co-writer of The Good Immigrant). Acclaimed composer and pianist Joanna Macgregor and a string quartet from the Brighton Philharmonic Orchestra accompany the text with a musical score of works by Beethoven, Schubert and Bach, plus a new composition written especially for the performance: The Waves by Joanna MacGregor.

The performance is filmed in St Michael and All Angels Church in Berwick in East Sussex.

The church has recently undergone extensive renovations to restore the 20th century murals which were commissioned by Bishop Bell during the Second World War and painted by Charleston residents Duncan Grant, Vanessa Bell and her son Quentin Bell. The Bloomsbury murals reflect on the grief felt by the death of Vanessa Bell’s other son, Julian Bell, that the family were processing at the time. In dialogue with the intimate space, this moving performance will create a meditation on the power of human connection, the pain of those lost and the transcendent joy and comfort of friendship.

Doing the Numbers: A Feminist Economics is hosted by the award-winning journalist Anita Anand and brings together international best-selling writer Eugenia Cheng and Prospect Magazine Top 25 Global Thinker Linda Scott.

They challenge, interrogate and seek solutions to economic disparities that are perpetuated by gender inequalities. Globally, women on average leave education at a younger age, earn less than their male peers, and are given fewer opportunities during their working life.

Cheng and Scott discuss topics covered in their latest books x+y: A Mathematician’s Manifesto for Rethinking Gender (Cheng) and The Double X Economy: The Epic Potential of Empowering Women (Scott). They examine the need to rethink gendered language in relation to success and competition, and how giving women greater economic empowerment will lead to social, financial and environmental growth for everyone.

In James Ivory: A Life with Forster, Oscar and BAFTA award-winning film director, producer and screenwriter James Ivory reflects on the significance of E.M. Forster’s writing 50 years after the publication of Forster’s powerfully frank novel Maurice which paved the way as a founding work of modern gay literature. Ivory recollects the influence Forster’s writing had on his own work, his experience of adapting Maurice for the screen in 1987 and shares previously unseen telegrams which he exchanged with Forster in the 1960s when they attempted to meet in person.

Susannah Stevenson, Artistic Director of Charleston Festival said:
“This is the second year that the realities of the pandemic have meant we’ve not been able to gather in person for Charleston Festival. But the Charleston Festival Edit is proof, yet again, that we won’t let that get in the way of sharing great performances, discussions, and ideas with our audiences. I hope that the Charleston Festival Edit whets everyone’s appetite for all the great things that are still to come as we all look forward to re-opening Charleston on the 19 May.”

Following the planned reopening of the house and galleries on 19 May, Charleston will launch a new outdoor stage bringing audiences a summer-long programme of events with leading and emerging thinkers, writers, artists and activists. Full details will be announced soon.