Hope Theatre, London – until 18 March 2017
There’s intimate, then there’s The Hope Theatre. With a capacity of just 50 seats, the audience at this small North London venue find themselves physically emerged in whichever narrative is unfolding before them. Such a setting works extremely well for In Other Words, the story of Arthur (played by Matthew Seager, who also wrote the play) and Jane (played by Celeste Dodwell) whose loving relationship is tested to breaking point by the onset of Arthur’s dementia. The play cleverly flits back and forth in time, from the couple’s first encounter and them later recounting that encounter, to the first signs and eventual effects of Arthur’s condition and the couple’s increasingly sombre visits to the doctor; ‘It feels like…I am breaking,’ Arthur declares during one such visit. The common thread throughout, and indeed the key theme of the play, is the central part music plays in each of these stages of Arthur and Jane’s life together, in particular Frank Sinatra’s ‘Fly Me To The Moon’ which evolves from being a fond reminiscence into a powerful touchstone for the increasingly detached Arthur.
The small setting and sparse staging are employed to great effect, with credit to Will Alder and Iida Aino (lighting and sound designer respectively) for transporting the audience to different settings in the blink of an eye. A production such as this lives and dies by its performances though and thankfully both Seager and Dodwell are very good as the beleaguered couple. Given the arc of the narrative, it is Seager’s performance that stands out during the first half of the play, but a highly emotive monologue in which Dodwell’s character communicates the sheer frustration and heartache she is experiencing at seeing the corrosion of the man she loves certainly redresses that balance, the sense of bitterness and resentment at the injustice of the situation palpable throughout. Together, Seager and Dodwell do well to encapsulate the fact that there is little in life more complex or more defining than the relationship between two people.
Seager was initially inspired to create In Other Words following his involvement with sensory stimulation workshops during his final year at university, an experience which led to him becoming involved with a rather special charity. Based in Glasgow, Playlist for Life facilitate the use of music, in particular songs that hold significant personal meaning, in the treatment of dementia. With its strong performances, effective storytelling and clever staging, In Other Words serves as a fitting testament to such a worthy cause.