REVIEW: In Other Words (Arcola Theatre)

In recognition of World Alzheimer’s Month this September, Music for Dementia brings Matthew Seager’s debut play, In Other Words, back to the stage. Running at Arcola Theatre ahead of a UK tour, this compelling production explores the devastating effect of dementia and the power of music to reconnect patients with their loved ones.

Inspired by Seager’s own experiences facilitating sensory stimulation workshops at a care home, In Other Words takes its name from Frank Sinatra’s ‘Fly Me to the Moon’. Having played the song at the end of a session, 20 year old drama student Seager was ‘floored’ to find the room suddenly come alive. Becoming an anchor for the events of the play, the song provides a valuable reminder of the unique ability of music to pull people into the present, sparking joy and connection.

Directed brilliantly by Andy Routledge, this single Act play charts the relationship of Jane (Lianne Harvey) and Arthur (Matthew Seager) across several decades, from the moment that Arthur first sets eyes on Jane through to a time where he barely recognises her. As Jane and Arthur share their stories, the past and present intertwine to provide a moving insight into the reality of living with dementia.

It’s an incredibly moving piece of writing that is truly terrifying in its authenticity. Jane and Arthur are so ordinary and relatable that they could be any of us, really hammering home the magnitude of their experiences. We join them at seemingly mundane moments in their lives, feeling their respective fears as they look back and wonder if they could or should have seen their significance earlier. Like Arthur, many of us in the audience will recall occasions where we have popped to the the shop and forgotten what we needed, or momentarily misplaced an everyday word. But where does the line lie between ordinary forgetfulness and something more serious? And how on earth do you cope with it when it happens?

Photo credit: Tom Dixon

Seager and Harvey have exceptional chemistry, convincingly portraying the pair as their relationship develops and changes. Seager gives an astonishing performance as Arthur, switching from a charismatic, confident young man to a shell of his former self. Harvey goes on an equivalent journey as Jane grows from a loving wife to a devoted caregiver, suffering through her own harrowing Groundhog Day as she watches her husband disappear before her eyes.

As Arthur slips progressively further away from Jane, we see her suffer with ambiguous loss, aching for the brief moments of joy that come with tiny glimmers of recognition. Over the course of the 75 minutes we hear their song, ‘Fly Me to the Moon’, which starts to taking on a greater significance as it starts to become the only thing that connects past and present.

In Other Words is a charming and bittersweet production that effectively portrays how frightening a dementia diagnosis can be, and highlights the valuable role that music can play in reawakening memories. It can sometimes be hard to find the right words to end a review. In this case, they write themselves: Fill my heart with song and let me sing forevermore.

In Other Words plays at Arcola Theatre from 5 to 30 September 2023 ahead of a UK tour. We received a complimentary ticket to the press night on 7 September.

Photo credit: Tom Dixon