Matthew Seager’s debut play, In Other Words, is currently running at Islington’s Hope Theatre. Tackling the increasingly prevalent condition of dementia, Seager has written the story of a couple who are coming to terms with a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s – and as part of the process he has worked with the Alzheimer’s Society and Playlist for Life. Whilst at university, Seager was also involved in facilitating some sensory stimulation workshops at a dementia care home – this showed him the therapeutic effect of music on people with this condition and was the initial inspiration for this play.
Arthur and Jane met accidentally at a party years ago, and have been together ever since – having their first tentative dance to Frank Sinatra’s Fly Me To The Moon. It afterwards becomes Arthur’s way of making Jane forgive him; he’ll start playing it and she can never resist such a wonderful song. Arthur’s always been a bit clumsy and forgetful, so he isn’t overly shocked at forgetting his entire reason for a quick trip to the shops – however, it becomes a recurring thing and after a while the doctor confirms a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s. Jane is left to be more of a carer than a wife as he degenerates further.
Jane and Arthur narrate the story, almost as if they’re somewhere looking back on their life together – in between they play out scenes from their life, starting with Arthur in the grip of his illness, then skipping back to when they first met and working up to where the show starts. This format is wonderfully effective for a two-hander, as it allows the pair to really articulate their emotions and also lets you see what actually happened.
Iida Aino’s sound design plays an integral role in the production, giving a real insight into what Alzheimer’s patients might be experiencing when they have an episode that leads to aggression. A hum of discordant noise slowly builds until it becomes unbearable for Arthur and he lashes out. It is cleverly devised, allowing the audience to really empathise at these moments.
Celeste Dodwell gives a touching performance as Jane, who tries to be as understanding as she can but is pushed so far that she almost can’t stand the burden of Arthur’s illness. In his later years, Fly Me To The Moon is used to try and help Arthur reconnect to the man he once was, and Dodwell’s portrayal of Jane’s joy when her husband flickers back is profoundly moving.
Matthew Seager is indescribably brilliant as Arthur. He has the mannerisms and attitude down to a tee, from the vacant expression to the unpredictable eruption of aggression when Arthur has an acute attack. Seager is also adorably awkward in Arthur’s unorthodox wooing of Jane early on, with a cheeky glint in his eye getting him out of trouble on more than one occasion!
Sadly a growing number of us now have experience of this disease through loved ones, so I must warn you that it will probably stir some painful memories and be a rather intense and emotional experience. However, this is testament to its authenticity and the talent of the cast and creatives.
My verdict? A heart-wrenchingly beautiful play that shows the humanity that dementia can hide away, thanks to some fine writing and wonderful performances – be sure to bring tissues!
In Other Words runs at the Hope Theatre until 18 March 2017. Tickets are available online and from the box office.