Tuesday 19th February 2019 at York Theatre Royal.
Off The Middle have their sights set on tear ducts with this production of In Other Words by Matthew Seager. An intense two hander, the production gives an emotive insight into just what it’s like to feel yourself losing a loved one to Dementia – specifically in this case, Alzheimer’s.
Jane and Arthur are adorable, there’s no two ways about it. They’re what the youngsters might call ‘relationship goals’. We are given a charming recreation of their meeting, flirting, falling and fledging a life together. They’re playful and silly and sarcastic and crucially, very human. Seaver’s play finds power easily because it doesn’t root for idealism. Nor does it deliver a floral take on a golden couple destined for tragedy. The power lies in how ordinarily lovely they are together, and there’s a palpable sadness as the play draws to a close precisely because the characters are so humanly written.
Arthur and Jane bond over music. They flirt over it. Their arguments often end with it. It’s a store of memories and a white flag. It’s also eventually the only tool Jane has with which to dig through the fog to reach her husband. In Other Words quietly champions music as the solace and rescue of those living with Dementia and their families. It’s not unknown that music can achieve miraculous clarity for patients quite unlike any other approach, but it’s moving to see that impact play out.
The production courts intensity in all areas, too. The stage space contains nothing more than two arm chairs, side by side, a lamp, and two wine glasses. Against this backdrop we see these lives and this relationship transformed without props or additional characters to lean on. It’s just us, Jane and Arthur. Under direction of Paul Brotherston, pauses are many and the gravity is great – we know what’s coming, we’re just waiting. And with the flickering of that lamp, Arthur’s memory deteriorates. In fact, Will Alder’s lighting design is excellent, signalling the shifts in time and perspective with precision and clarity but no fuss – just like the production itself.
It’s really quite rare to see a cast capable of depicting decades over an hour with a real sense of credibility or depth, but Matthew Seager and Angela Hardie not only make us believe in their love and their life together, but they take us with them over the years, step by step, until we are alongside Jane, looking at a lovable man deteriorating by the minute.
Both take us through the mill with them and Hardie does a superb job of representing the often marginalised carer role in a couple like this with great weight and a great sense of silent agony. The play looks at suffering outside of the disease; those still very much in control and aware of the minute details of every day, particularly when those days get progressively harder, and Hardie shows us this through a very sensitive and moving performance.
Seager also impresses with what is essentially a dual role with segues – he must convince us that the endearingly calamitous young man with an eager eye on his eventual wife does in fact become a man shrunk back into his chair, questioning the woman beside him as a new face. His depiction is a combination of uncomfortable stark contrast and painfully slow transformation. With warm, playful, anxious and fiery exchanges between the pair equally well played, this show is an accomplished two-hander.
Seager‘s script particularly excels in one significant respect: the shifting time frames and the broken fourth wall approach. We begin at the end, then start again. Jane and Arthur bicker, then call upon us to tell their version of any given anecdote; we’re a pal at the pub asked to pick a side, with both grinning at us eagerly. But gradually, the Jane and Arthur of the past – the healthy, vibrant couple in their prime, brace themselves to tell us the whole tale, with no unpleasantness left out.
They reassure each other before diving into the darkest corners of their relationship, allowing us to constantly compare who they were with who they are becoming. That ‘I hate this bit’ is the single most moving part of this play because Seager’s script and structure have conspired to make us join Jane in her dread: we’ve seen the end result, and we don’t want to reach the end of this cyclical narrative where poor Arthur is no longer a mischievous scamp. In Other Words is a piece of beautifully constructed theatre which searches for the heartstrings in delicately brutal ways.
In Other Words plays at York Theatre Royal until February 20th 2019 and you can find tickets here. After this tour stop, the company tours until March 9th 2019 and you can find more information about venues and tickets here. Off the Middle support a fantastic charity called Playlist for Life, which advocates for the use of music to evoke memories and achieve those golden moments of clarity. You can find out more about their brilliant work here.