Friday, May 10, 2013

Play 5: At the end of time

play 5: Ending Time Broadcast on Radio 3 on 7th November 1984.
With Martin Heller, Crawford Logan, Ann Louise Ross, Bill Paterson, Iain Cuthbertson.
Technical presentation: Jim Ross.
Directed by Stewart Conn.

This commission came out of the last. Only this one was for BBC Radio 3. I was excited. 

I’d heard a performance of Messaien’s Quartet For The End Of Time and got incredibly excited and deeply moved by it.

I don’t think the piece was very well known in those days (1984) because I seem to have felt there was a need to explain it...but I had obviously just discovered all these possibilities in Radio Drama and was so excited by them. 

Because there’s an unnamed radio producer having a petty feud with his unnamed (and unspeaking) secretary, there’s Mary and James who are in a car on the way back from a camping weekend, and they can’t decide whether or not to have a child, and James is a disgruntled violinist who’s just been playing the the Quartet, and there’s John of Patmos, him of the Book of Revelation, in Patmos, and in the present with James and Mary, and there’s an Angel too...

The whole thing is tied together by the structure of the Quartet which we hear playing in a concert hall, and on Mary and James’ car radio, while we zap around between Patmos, the Celestial Throne, the campsite, the producer’s office and the prison camp where the Quartet was first performed before ending up in the loo of Kinross motorway service station where John has a beautiful revelation of the new Jerusalem...

Technically it's amazing, beautifully directed by Stewart Conn, recorded on tape amazingly mixed and spliced together by Jim Ross. With Sue Meek clacking on a piece of lino in her heels, and doing the typing on her typewriter. (This was before computers. There were electric typewriters).

There’s a lot of me hating myself as a man in the portrayals of James and the radio producer, which is a shame, but I love the zany energy of it, it makes me laugh and laugh, and there’s moments of amazing beauty too.

Like just now. Listening to Messaien’s haunting, beautiful music, slowly coming closer:

JOHN: What is it?

ANGEL: Listen. It’s music. It’s for you.

JOHN: For me?

ANGEL: For you. And look. All the people. Do you see them? They’re listening.

JOHN: But how thin they are. How pale.

ANGEL: They are starving.


JAMES: He was in prison. Behind wire. He’d lost all his friends. It was winter. He was hungry and cold. They squabbled for food. Someone had a clarinet, someone else a violin. The piano was broken. He had to make do. People were dying. He still wrote it. No one, he said, no one has ever listened so well. I can’t even play it. How could I be someone’s father? Father to a child....

JOHN: How still they are. That’s how they listened to him. In their thousands, packed together. Beside the sea shore, all silent. Hungry for every word. How beautiful he looked. How soft his voice was. He spoke low, but they all heard him. If our child asks for bread, he said, will you give him a stone?

ANGEL: (SADLY) You give him gas.
And when he’s dead, you burn him.

That must have been when I fell in love with radio. How amazing to go from the sky to Stalag VII-A to a motor car to the shores of the sea of Galilee and then to the ovens of Auschwitz. Seamlessly. Travelling by the power of the mind.

And what a cast. Bill Paterson as John of Patmos, Iain Cuthbertson as the Angel, Martin Heller as the producer, Crawford Logan as James and Anne Louise Ross so lovely as Mary. 

With a deep pang I could feel how one of the scenes was inspired by me and my late partner Susie making love. The debate betwen the two characters was one we had had some years earlier, as to whether it was right to bring a child into this disintegrating world. 

And those moments. Those beautiful moments of tenderness. This must be why, the night before last, I dreamt she was still alive. And I could talk to her.

But I won’t think of that. I’ll think of John, and the final vision of the play. With Messaien’s utterly beautiful last movement...

JOHN: How peaceful it is. How quiet. All this water. Patmos was a desert place, but here is water. I saw the City. I remember now. I measured it with my hands. I saw it with my eyes. The city was of gold, like unto clear glass. There was no more war. There were no tears and the seas had all run dry. I said, Lord I am not worthy, Lord I am not worthy but the rod was put into my hand. So I measured.
The streets were full of dancing.
All the children were there, they rose up from the ovens and all the women too. All the downtrodden, all the oppressed.
All the prisoners were set free. And the others they, too, cast aside their whips and their truncheons and laughed. They laughed. Everyone was there, everyone. All joined the dance. It’s over they said. It’s all over. It was just a bad dream. And it’s over. It’s finished and done. And the lion lay down with the lamb. And there were springs of pure water.
I was there. I ate the bread. I drank the wine. I must tell them I was there.


I must tell them. I mustn’t forget. Dear God don’t let me forget. I was there. Let me not forget. Let me not forget...

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