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Cheltenham Literature Festival 2015

Cheltenham Literature Festival 2015

Picture of Rory McInnes-Gibbons
Updated: 12 December 2015
Pitched somewhere between Edinburgh and Hay-on-Wye, the Times and Sunday Times Cheltenham Literature Festival is a ten-day treasure trove of tents. Set in Cheltenham’s Montpellier greenery, split between Imperial Square and Montpellier Gardens, the regency setting is perfect for this cosy yet impressively diverse public speaking and live performance event. It is a small town cultural takeover, and what better way to eye the strength of a literary festival than through its Top Clashes.

Inside the opulent splendour of the Spiegeltent | Courtesy of McPhersonStevens and Cheltenham Festivals
Inside the opulent splendour of the Spiegeltent | Courtesy of McPhersonStevens and Cheltenham Festivals

The Right Kind of History vs. Times Defining Moments: Guernica

3rd October, 11am

The festival is a perfect blend of politics, history, art, comedy and literature for the self-professed polymath or naive dilettante. The Right Kind of History debates historical education in schools, pushed into mainstream political discourse through the policies of divisive ideologue Michael Gove. Offsetting the debate between bestselling author Antony Beevor, BBC documentarian David Olusoga and New Labourite Tristram Hunt is a lesson from history: the tragedy of Guernica, immortalised by Picasso’s work. For those unable to view this iconic artwork of atrocity at Madrid’s Reina Sofia, hear about the context: a world of pain inflicted by the Luftwaffe’s genocidal bombing campaign, realised in Picasso’s 1937 piece for Paris’ International Exhibition.

Come to the Cabaret vs. Hatchet Job 2: The Critics Return

3rd October, 8pm

Germany is a theme within the programming for this year’s event, as Guest Director Alexander Görlach, formerly of Harvard, has influence. Come to the Cabaret is the most ambitious as the opulent, velvet curtain clad Spiegeltent is transformed into a Weimar Republic, 30s cabaret night out. Only for the big spenders, the Spiegeltent sees the more extravagant (and costlier) events, none more splendid than tonight. On the other hand, head down to the Garden Theatre for a more rustic evening of ripping anything and everything to shreds. Divisive Times critics, A.A. Gill, Camilla Long and An Education’s Lynn Barber are sure to divide and probably conquer in a night of disrepute. Hatchet Job 2 is one for the haters.

Sculptures grow like sprouts at the Sculpture Garden in St Ives' Barbara Hepworth Museum | Courtesy of Rory McInnes-Gibbons
Sculptures grow like sprouts at the Sculpture Garden in St Ives’ Barbara Hepworth Museum | Courtesy of Rory McInnes-Gibbons

Goya: The Portraits vs. The Art of the Political Interview

4th October, 10.45am

Think Goya and the ‘Black Paintings’ of his demented phase come to mind. Madrid’s Museo Prado houses the collection, but this autumn, The National Gallery offers a celebration of sane sobriety. Goya’s portraits of the Spanish elite are often overlooked, but look closer and the work of the cartoonist haunts the often unflattering yet somehow magisterial commissions of this master. The Art of the Political Interview is to be short and cut straight to the point. To expand: Frost, David Frost. His son, Wilfred, will offer personal insight into the interviewing overlord as clips of the man in action accompany the speakers. Frost vs. Nixon? Frost vs. Goya is so much more Cheltenham.

Arthur Miller at 100 vs. 9/11 and the Rise of ISIS

5th October, 2pm

Don’t worry; the organisers are not raising 20th-century American tragedian Arthur Miller from the dead for an afternoon of geriatric coffee sipping. However, confidante and biographer Christopher Bigsby is the man to celebrate the life of a rare light who rebooted transatlantic theatre and the genre of tragedy. As the festival goes into a crescendo of culture after its opening weekend, it is time for the other end: cultural calamity. In 9/11 and the Rise of ISIS, the prolific Independent columnist, Patrick Cockburn, will darken the mood as he seeks to establish the causes of the Islamic State’s abominable deeds in the Middle East. Speaking primarily about the human cost, he will look at the significant side effect of a seemingly unstoppable cultural genocide that has reduced the proud heritage of Syria and Iraq to rubble.

Rushing all over the world, Rushdie hits Cheltenham | Courtesy of McPhersonStevens and Cheltenham Festivals
Rushing all over the world, Rushdie hits Cheltenham | Courtesy of McPhersonStevens and Cheltenham Festivals

Barbara Hepworth: Sculpture for a Modern World vs. Sophocles: Live and Loud

6th October, 4pm

Wakefield’s Barbara Hepworth defined the shape of the ‘Modern World.’ Beneath the UN’s Headquarters in New York sits the most significant public sculptural commission of the 1960s: Single Form. At 6.4 metres tall, it is Hepworth’s largest and most recognisable work. St Ives’ Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden tells her story — not least burning to death in her own workshop — along with contributors, including model Daphne Selphe. From silent sculptures to boisterous live readings, the more acoustically minded head to classical theatre scholar Oliver Taplin. Join him as he transports an audience from the quiet Quads of Oxford to ancient Athens’ rowdy world of Dionysia and Sophocles: Live and Loud.

Margaret Thatcher: Everything She Wants vs. The Ultimate Guide to Happiness

7th October, 6pm

For some, historically speaking, happiness and Margaret Thatcher do not coexist peacefully, but the festival places them side-by-side in happy harmony. So to offer a third flavour into this tasty three way, head over to the undeniable book blockbuster of the year The Girl On The Train. Author Paula Hawkins will be discussing her phenomenal breakthrough success, which has already totalled over three million sales worldwide. And there will be no mention of Thatcher or happiness anywhere.

Salman Rushdie vs. The Cheltenham Booker: 1915

10th October, 2.45pm

So you were probably unaware that the Man Booker had been overtaken in superiority by The Cheltenham Booker Prize. Proof of Cheltenham’s worrying hubris? Well, after eight consecutive days of quality culture (Thursday sees a book release from Robert Harris and Friday NIGELLA), perhaps a little confidence is to be expected. As the readers and journalists dissect the respective values of novels from John Buchan, Ford Madox Ford, P.G. Wodehouse and Virginia Woolf for the previously uncontested 1915 Booker Prize, the 1981 Booker Prize winner Salman Rushdie takes centre stage at the Town Hall. Midnight’s Children might seem like a while ago, but the perennial progressive has just released (28th September) his latest novel, Two Years, Eight Months and Twenty Eight Days. See him here as The Satanic Verses writer is normally on the run from Iran!

Bill Bryson: Back In Blighty vs Berlin: Portrait of a City vs The Radio Times Debate: The Future of the BBC

10th October, 6.45pm

To finish: a final flurry of three. Call it the third place play off before the final day sees formalities close with Sue Perkins’ populism and Reginald D. Hunter’s insight. As for Saturday night, it is a tough choice. Berlin is one of the most fascinating cities to witness an informed discussion upon; Bill Bryson is simply good fun and set to become a British citizen; while the future of the BBC could affect the cultural output of our chief international brand, our worldwide image. A world without Strictly is, after all, unthinkable. This decision is one of ideology, between the casual pursuits of Bill, the more historically minded Berlin Portrait or the heavier, Bragg presented debate over our most loved yet overlooked institution. Like the festival itself, choices have to be made.

And the winner is…You. Do a Bill, and hike to the festival, get that ‘Girl on a Train’ or fly direct from Berlin, but most importantly, get yourself down to the cultural event of October. Make your decisions in advance to avoid disappointment, but a line-up that includes Nigel and Nigella Lawson is unlikely to let you down.

By Rory McInnes-Gibbons