A star-studded line-up full of acting legends, comedians and leading voices in the visual arts, literature and politics has been announced for one of the UK’s longest running literary festivals.

Charleston Festival will return for its 35th year between May 16 and 27 in the grounds of the house and gardens at Charleston in Firle.

For this anniversary edition, the festival has one of its most ambitious line-ups yet.

Highlights include a special event in which Judi Dench will look back on an extraordinary career with her close friend, collaborator and fellow actor Bill Nighy.

In an original performance, the astute, fierce and funny letters exchanged between the writer Virginia Woolf and her brother-in-law, the art critic Clive Bell, will be brought to life by British actor Toby Jones.

The Argus: Charleston Festival 2023 Charleston Festival 2023 (Image: Emma Croman)

Bafta-winning actor Helena Bonham Carter will read extracts from historian David Kynaston’s forthcoming book A Northern Wind: 1962-1965, including from the diaries of her grandmother, the writer, politician and close confidante of Winston Churchill Violet Bonham Carter.

Melissa Perkins, head of programme and events at Charleston, said: “We’re excited to present a festival for 2024 that is truly multi-genre and which features some of the most exceptional writers, artists and thinkers of our time. Our programme this year is brimming with trailblazing talent and must-see moments that make this anniversary edition unmissable.”

The Argus: Judi DenchJudi Dench (Image: Robert Wilson)

Each year, Charleston Festival commissions and curates a series of original productions. The 2024 edition will see Bryony Kimmings, writer, comedian and creator of multiple hit touring shows, deliver this year’s Charleston Monologue, a reflection on our times written immediately in the weeks before the festival, titled Freakosystem.

The Argus: Toby JonesToby Jones (Image: Submitted)

Leading barrister Michael Mansfield KC, who has worked on some of the most controversial cases of our times including the Birmingham Six, the striking miners and Grenfell, will deliver this year’s Jeremy Hutchinson Memorial Lecture. 

The 2024 Charleston Festival programme involves leading international literary figures such as Colm Tóibín, Marlon James, David Mitchell, Marilynne Robinson, Val McDermid, Eleanor Catton, and Naomi Alderman. A special event for both children and adults will celebrate the magic of children’s literature, featuring Joseph Coelho, Lenny Henry, Joanna Lumley and a special surprise guest. 

The Argus: Lenny HenryLenny Henry (Image: Danny Kasirye)

Influential figures in the fields of art and design will include British artist duo Gilbert and George in conversation with Nicholas Cullinan, director of the National Portrait Gallery; artist, designer and activist Es Devlin and artist and potter Grayson Perry.

The Argus: Grayson PerryGrayson Perry (Image: Steven Hatton)

Key political figures and commentators will join this year’s line-up, including journalist Emily Maitlis, The Guardian’s parliamentary sketch writer John Crace and comedian Rosie Holt, whose satirical videos of a fake politician went viral in lockdown.

The Argus: Emily MaitlisEmily Maitlis (Image: Emily Maitlis)

To commemorate 75 years since the publication of George Orwell’s 1984, this year’s festival will feature a special programming strand called Visions of Tomorrow, uncovering what the future might look like 35 years from today with three events focusing on money, AI and global power. 

As part of its family programme the festival has a host of special encounters with some familiar children’s authors including Ben Miller, Chris Riddell and Michael Morpurgo.

The Argus: Gilbert and George at the gates to The Gilbert and George CentreGilbert and George at the gates to The Gilbert and George Centre (Image: Prudence Cuming)

Nathaniel Hepburn, director of Charleston, said: “This year’s roster promises to be our most exciting yet, delivering new ideas and driving debate on the most pertinent topics of our day – a fitting legacy to the Bloomsbury group who, at Charleston, imagined society differently.”

Charleston Friend+, patrons and benefactors get access to priority booking for the festival, which opens on Tuesday. Under 30s members can benefit from discounted £10 tickets to all main festival events. Tickets go on general sale on February 29.