Visitors to London’s Emmanuel Centre were in for a treat on Monday night at the how to: Academy’s latest event, Speeches of Note. Following in the footsteps of its well-known cousin Letters Live, where a selection of significant historical letters are brought to life by a host of celebrities, Speeches of Note celebrated the power of the spoken word in style.
Actors Ian Kelly, Jessie Buckley, Tanya Vital and Georgina Rylance all took to the stage, reading out carefully chosen speeches from throughout history in front of a packed out audience in the Centre’s elegant surroundings.
Each of the fourteen speeches were brilliantly chosen and varied greatly, from speeches that never were, including that of President Nixon in the event that Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong didn’t make it back from their Apollo mission to the moon; to the empowering speech by former Australian PM Julia Gillard, who took the Leader of the Opposition to task over claims of misogyny. The words of politicians, activists, prisoners on death row and rugby coaches were given life thanks to the actors, and in addition to the live readings, the evening included recordings of other rousing speeches, including that of Nelson Mandela and also Malala Yousafzai, who spoke at the UN and called for worldwide education.
Moderated by the how to: Academy’s Hannah MacInnes, the show also featured Shaun Usher, brainchild of Speeches of Note (as well as Letters of Note), who was on hand to introduce the selection and provide a little background on each speech. His enthusiasm for the spoken work was infectious (although his rugby knowledge left a lot to be desired!) and it was interesting to find out why those particular speeches were chosen and hear of others which didn’t quite make the cut, including one which quite literally saved Teddy Roosevelt’s life.
Speeches of Note was a compelling evening packed full of captivating, impassioned, motivating and sometimes amusing speeches from both those in the public eye such as Tilda Swinton, who gave a moving speech at the Victoria and Albert Museum’s David Bowie Exhibition; and relative unknowns, whose words were no less extraordinary. Some speeches were chilling at times, with a speech entitled “This solemn and awful duty”, written by the British Government for the Queen to be broadcast in the event of World War Three, particularly spine-tingling, and which felt oddly relevant with recent tensions in the world. They were moving too, and emotions ran high when the audience watched Yeonmi Park speaking out about North Korean’s regime in 2014.
Speeches of Note was an unmissable show which proved just how powerful the spoken word could be – it was certainly an evening to remember. It may be the first event of its kind, but hopefully it’s not the last.
By Kirsty Herrington