When I enter the auditorium of The Hope Theatre, Arthur (Matthew Seager) and Jane (Celeste Dodwell) are sat on two armchairs in front of the public. They seem playful and happy to be together. Occasionally, they exchange a few words and I can't stop thinking of how cute they are. In Other Words is the story of their 50-year long relationship, from their first bumpy encounter in a bar to their last glimpse of sanity. Arthur is affected by Alzheimer disease and he struggles to recognise his wife, except for when a special song is playing loud – the same Frank Sinatra song that brought them together so many years before.
Actor and playwright Matthew Seager conceived his debut play In Other Words after a 10-week workshop of sensory stimulation in a dementia care home. During this experience, he was stunned to observe how the patients responded positively when exposed to familiar tunes. Following a period of further development at The Arches in Glasgow and at The Lyric Hammersmith – and benefitting from the collaboration with the Alzheimer's Society and Playlist For Life – Seager has successfully produced an accomplished piece, which depicts a realistic plot with intense and vivid colours.
In 75 minutes, we are continuously projected back and forth into Arthur and Jane's timeline and showed the most memorable moments of their love story, with the tender accompaniment of Sinatra's warm voice. These transitions are well supported by Will Alder's strictly codified lighting design, which follows a pattern and suggests the change of scene without the need of verbal references. Thanks to Paul Brotherston discerning direction, the use of some simple props and costume variations also helps to create an engaging and thought-provoking drama, in which I could entirely immerse myself.
Matthew Seager's initial and sudden transformation from the handsome young man to the frail and elderly self was impressive, as I caught the exact moment when that happened. The only unconvincing element of an otherwise excellent performance was Celeste Dodwell's in-your-face desperation. Her frequent screaming and crying felt too strong for the intimate auditorium, where relating to the characters and partaking in their emotions is fairly easy, even without them being overly explicit.
In Other Words is equally heart-warming and heartbreaking and calls us to face the unavoidable reality of mental illness through a sweet but compelling story. Within this tragedy, music plays the most important role, somehow allowing people affected by Alzheimer and their loved ones to still find a safe place, where memory seems to survive unscathed and contributes to reunite them, even if only for the duration of a song.
Review by Marianna Meloni