‘In Other Words’ is a show that focuses on the impact of Arthur’s (Matthew Seager) dementia, both in his life and how it affects his relationship with Jane (Lianne Harvey). The show starts with Arthur being unable to comprehend anything around him, jerking and struggling to speak. Seager’s acting instantly draws you in, and it’s then that you realise that you’ve just signed up for what promises to be a heartbreaking rollercoaster of a show. Seager does such an incredible job in the opening scene, that it feels as though we are prying on a man at his most vulnerable. It’s a tough watch, yet we are completely invested in his story. We are aided by Jane (Lianne) on her knees, holding back tears whilst trying to help Arthur into his shoes, and this sets the tone for the show.
The story incorporates a beautiful love story between Jane and Arthur, as we are given insights into lovely moments throughout their time together. We start with their very first meeting in which we instantly fall in love with the characters, aided by hilarious British rambling, nervous jokes and chemistry that encourage the audience to root for them from the outset. Whilst these moments are lovely, they still do not distract from the inevitable truth that will slowly chip away at the couple. There is an excellent moment in which there is a transition from a happy moment, into one of the most heartbreaking. It’s such a bittersweet experience as we know that these are only fleeting moments of bliss. This results in almost sad chuckles and quiet happy sighs from the audience.
Presented as an almost documentary of Arthur’s journey with dementia, the two characters reflect on their past. The cast often broke the fourth wall to address the audience directly, which was very amusing. The idea of having the characters reflect back on their lives in a documentary style was a risky approach, but it absolutely works in this play. It gives the audience a chance to breathe whilst seeing the couples exist outside of a set storyline, and laugh at their interactions which is really refreshing after the more intense scenes. The little nuggets of truth that we receive during these moments of reflection, which often address particular incidents, are beautifully written in a way that makes it universally relatable. The writing in these scattered moments is truly stellar.
The show’s commitment to not shying away from the brutally raw portrayal of dementia and the unfortunate, yet realistic, darker thoughts that accompany wife-come-carer Jane, is what makes the show as strong as it is. Whilst being a love story at its core, it never once tries to romanticise or use symptoms for dramatic flair. It’s an authentic representation of what living with dementia could be. The subtle writing of the script elevates this show from a raw piece of theatre, to an incredibly thoughtful show. Its incredible use of parallels and the use of physicality from Arthur being the one to lead dances, to then needing to rely and lean entirely on Jane, are a great watch.
The slow descent is built up well. The differences in both characters are evident, yet in wildy different ways. His more obvious struggles with memory loss, inability to focus and process his surroundings, paranoia and shaking stuttering speech is brilliant. Yet it’s the equally excellent draining of Jane’s energy and personality that really hits home. Her weariness and constant love for her husband, despite harbouring a few really dark thoughts, and buried anger at the world, is beautifully explored by Harvey. Arthur and Jane are almost entirely on two separate paths throughout the show, and this makes Jane’s attempts to reach her husband even more heartbreaking to watch.
Sound design comes from Ida Aino, with use of a looping echo system and harsh consistent tones, which are effectively used to create a sense of distortion whenever the dementia is onset. Alongside the impactful acting from Seager, this really overwhelms the audience as we are almost able to to experience the sense of being lost within one’s own mind. Matthew Seager (who also wrote this play) decided to focus on the use of music and song as a way of helping people with dementia, and this became the emotional anchor and crux of the show. With a particular song travelling with the characters throughout their lives and it ends up creating a safe space for Arthur.
Another notable mention to lighting designer Will Alder, who uses warmer tones during flashbacks to create a welcoming sense of home and a harsh white lighting with uncomfortable spotlights during the more difficult times. These not only help to distinguish the scenes quickly but also add so much to the show in general. The show’s ending is incredibly powerful, especially given the excellent use of lighting and left me feeling hopeful and uplifted, despite there being a miracle ending.
In Other Words is a show that will wreck you, but you will absolutely love that it does because this is a narrative that is so important and deserves to be told to develop awareness. The themes and the way in which the show has been crafted will stay with audiences for a long time after leaving the theatre. In Other Words plays at the Arcola Theatre until the 30th September. For more information and tickets, you can follow the link here.
AD | gifted tickets in return for an honest review | Photography by Tom Dixon