Connaissance de la Meuse
Finding hope in darkness
TEXT: HANNAH JANE THOMPSON | PHOTOS © LA CONNAISSANCE DE LA MEUSE
You’re in a huge quarry in north-east France, and hundreds of people are acting right in front of you. Sounds and music come from 11 different angles, and 100-metre-high projections light up the space.
This is no ordinary play. This is a new-and-improved version of Des Flammes à la Lumière, an immersive spectacle telling the story of WWI and the infamously deadly 1916 Battle of Verdun – including the lead-up, the hellish duration, and recovery.
Created by cultural association la Connaissance de la Meuse (CM), this is history rendered vital and impassioned, for people who might never set foot in a museum (over 509,000 people have seen the show since its first creation in 1996).
“We can reach so many people this way,” explains co-writer, director and CM President, Jean-Luc Demandre. “We demonstrate that war was not inevitable, and that even in the worst horrors, humans can endure and overcome hatred.” Created entirely by volunteers, the 250-actor performance is also a testament to cross-cultural co-operation, with participants of all ages from France, Belgium and Germany. And, far from an irrelevant nod to the past, the creators are well aware that today’s political climate makes the show more relevant than ever. The final scene plays an extract of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony– part of which is the European anthem, Ode to Joy– while performers shake hands and the European flag is projected onto the quarry’s sloping walls.
Far from a controversial political statement, the scene is a heartfelt acknowledgement of the power of unity in the wake of a historical human tragedy. “Say what you like about Europe,” says Demandre, “but it has allowed us to live for 75 years in peace. Peace is not only the absence of war, it is something we must all maintain everyday. Ours is a message of hope.”
Facebook: Connaissance de la Meuse
The show takes place 21, 22, 28 and 29 June, and 5, 6, 12, 13, 19, 20, 26 and 27 July 2019. Tickets are available online. Spectators can ask for free headsets, to listen in a variety of languages, including English, as well as options for the blind or deaf.
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