Winding my way through Richmond to the Wimbledon Festival on Sunday, I imagined the imminent afternoon performances to be fascinating, disturbing and highly-charged emotionally. I wasn’t disappointed. The Orange Tree Theatre played host to two unusual presentations. The first was a play, written by author and music critic Jessica Duchen, called A Walk Through the End of Time.
I particularly love the concept of music and words combined; two creative forces complimenting each other perfectly. A Walk Through the End of Time delves into the incredible history surrounding Messiaen’s work Quatuor pour la Fin du Temps. As a prisoner of war, Messiaen wrote his masterpiece (a quartet for clarinet, piano, violin and ‘cello) amid desperate turmoil and human suffering. It was first performed by the composer and three fellow prisoners in Silesia in 1941. Duchen’s play highlights Messiaen’s work, bringing the music to life by carefully unfolding the circumstances of its composition and the feelings of hope and love it conveys.
The play’s two characters, a man and woman who were married and subsequently divorced many years ago, were compelling. Harriet Walter and Henry Goodman were well cast and captivating. Although this was a ‘reading’ therefore read from the script, this surprisingly didn’t intrude. The story combined many different threads; that of the composition’s development and Messiaen’s own troubled life, with the couple’s sad and deeply moving tale examining the effect the work had on their marriage and subsequent life. This was all interpolated with fragments of Messiaen’s Quartet.
The result was dramatic and bold; the audience were privy to the couple’s spiritual journey, many of the questions raised applying to mankind as a whole. It was poignant and full of pathos.
The play was followed with a talk given by Anita Lasker-Wallfisch who had been a ‘cellist in The Women’s Orchestra in Auschwitz. Reading from a script, Lasker-Wallfisch recounted her experiences in the concentration camps in gritty detail with moving depictions explaining how her life had been saved by being able to play the ‘cello. ‘Cellist’s were rare in Auschwitz so she was indispensable. The stories were hard hitting and conveyed the deep suffering she and her sister had endured. A question and answer session brought this thought provoking afternoon to a close.