Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Broken record… In Other Words (2017), Hope Theatre

A love that endures even through catastrophic mental disease. How many have to endure the loss of their life partner and what can be crueller than their lover gradually becoming absent – crumbling away in unexpected parts as memory and reason simply disintegrates next to them in bed, over the breakfast table or in the sitting room as you watch the TV shows you shared become strangers too.

Music as much as smell evokes memories although I guess it depends on your wiring; after all, some people can actually see sound whereas most of us just hear it. But even for the neuro-typical brain, music sneaks straight past reason to the subconscious and sparks the remoter corners of the cortex with the feelings of the forgotten.

But when your memory starts to fade, when you’re sick with Alzheimer's Disease, how is music felt then?

In Other Words is Matthew Seager’s first play and was produced during his final year at university after life-changing work experience in a care home for people with Alzheimer's Disease. It is some achievement both in technical terms as well as emotional.

Celeste Dodwell and Matthew Seager - Photo Alex Fine
The play tells the story of Arthur (Matthew Seager himself) and Jane (Celeste Dodwell) or rather they tell their own story, leaping backwards in and out of key moments of their relationship to address the audience directly. The story cleverly flashes backwards and then heads forwards as we see the latter stages of Arthur’s condition – head and body dropped, barely able to talk, incapable of recognising even his wife – then jump to the couple’s initial meeting: Sinatra, a chance accident – spilt red wine – and the humorous recollection of a long love affair’s youthful beginning.

Arthur is a Sinatra man and Fly Me to the Moon is his and subsequently Jane’s song – it is the song that played when they first danced and when they first kissed: the moment when they both knew. It is music he always summons when they have troubles as Frank and Nelson Riddle's orchestra smooth over any temporary disconnection and the couple hold each other close and dance. Singing is, however, not allowed on account of Arthur’s wayward approach to pitch and tone.

It’s these snippets of everyday marital discord that keep the play real and the chemistry between Seager and Dodwell make them all the more affecting: these are the faux conflicts of healthy marriage and are all the more bittersweet for what we know must come. 

Celeste Dodwell and Matthew Seager - Photo Alex Fine
When the first signs of Arthur’s impending issues begin to appear they are rationalised and ignored – even argued over. After all, how can anyone take half an hour to collect some milk and stamps when it’s only a few minutes walk to the shop.

“It’s not fair on you” says Arthur, “No it’s not. So what, so what!” responds his loving wife. Both so courageous and ready for the fight of their lives.

But, amidst the “sunny days” and “rainy days” Arthur wil gradually lose his ability to think and in the grin darkness of their hospital consultations, Jane confesses that it feels lilke her husband is slowly leaving her…

Jane becomes increasingly isolated by Arthur’s innocent forgetfulness and his panicked cruelty. Their life is only heading one way and yet, sparked by Frank’s powerful song Arthur can occasionally remember. For brief moments he is once again whole and Jane’s husband… it can’t last but for the instance, he has returned.

Jane’s reaction is difficult to watch and her's one of the purest expressions of despair I’ve ever seen in a theatre.

Celeste Dodwell and Matthew Seager - Photo Alex Fine
We all connect with Arthur and Jane: they are our parents, aunts and uncles, friends… maybe even us. What makes the play so powerful - so uncomfortably real - is the knowledge that all of us in the Hope’s intense close-quarters could find ourselves in the same boat…this is an everyday, everyone kind of disease.

We must hope we can bear the ending with good grace and find whatever comforts in the music we loved.

Paul Brotherston directs superbly and makes the most of the Hope’s intimacy. His two leads deliver powerfully well and if I say I was slightly more impressed with Celeste Dodwell’s range everything is evened out by the fact that Matthew Seager wrote it! Whilst the characters start out as emotional equals, over the course of fifty years, Dodwell’s Jane becomes the only one left to really express their collective agony; she does so remarkably well and you’d have to be made of stone not to feel it too.

In Other Words continues at the Hope until 18th March: I would strongly recommend it to anyone who wants to moved heart and head by their theatre.
Ithankyou Theatre rating: *****

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