Dame Harriet Walter’s contribution to the 2014 Brighton Fringe combine both her first and second loves – acting and music.

A Walk Through The End Of Time sees her star alongside her husband Guy Paul in a story about a piece of 20th-century music composed in a prisoner of war camp.

Walter plays the daughter of a fellow prisoner who witnessed the creation of Olivier Messiaen’s Quartet For The End Of Time while imprisoned at Stalag VIII-A in Gorlitz (now Zgorzelec in Poland) after being captured in Verdun in 1940.

Reflecting the instruments his fellow prisoners had access to, Messiaen’s quartet uses a clarinet, violin, cello and piano.

“I have to say I wasn’t at all familiar with the piece,” admits Walter, recalling her first involvement with the project. “Part of the pleasure of my job is you randomly get introduced to completely new things. It’s better than going to university.

“Music has this power to connect with people on a really profound level and translate to whatever it is they are going through. There’s something about the depth from where this piece comes from which translates into a lasting legacy. The music also has a personal meaning for the couple in the play which it might not have for two other characters.”

The play section of the evening – which has been penned by Jessica Duchen and is delivered as a rehearsed reading – sees a long-separated couple reunited as they attend the same concert they once went to when they were still together.

“The story becomes a conversation about the past as they prepare to go in and listen to the concert,” says Walter. “It has lots of layers – examining their relationship and where it went wrong, and part of the reason it went wrong is down to the music.”

Walter’s extensive acting career has most recently seen her join the cast of ITV’s phenomenally successful Downton Abbey as Lady Shackleton.

A niece of Sir Christopher Lee, she established her career through the Royal Shakespeare Company, eventually being made an Associate Artist, and a Dame for services to drama in the 2011 New Years Honours.

She is currently working on a series of film and television projects including Suite Francais, a tale of a love affair across the battlelines in occupied France, and is in the middle of shooting Simon Pegg’s new comedy Man Up.

She is particularly looking forward to performing Duchen’s play in a church setting, before the music is played by the Ether Quartet in the second half.

“I love trying things out in different locations,” she says. “It puts the audience in a certain frame of mind and takes them out of their comfort zone – not that a church needs to be uncomfortable.

“Churches are wonderful for listening to music – it echoes why people go to church. Whether it is religious or not, it means people are ready to experience things on a deep level.”

  • A Walk Through The End Of Time is at St Nicholas Church, Dyke Road, Brighton, on Friday, May 9. Starts 7.30pm, tickets £15/£12. Call 01273 917272.