LIVING longer is all well and good but it sometimes comes at a shocking price.
It is a point vividly made by the latest play to come out of The Hope Theatre in Islington, London which quite rightly badges itself as ‘the little theatre with big ideas’. And a big heart too.
The play, In Other Words, tackles the modern day scourge that is dementia, an illness that currently affects 850,000 people in the UK, most of them over the age of 65.
An illness we are told, in a thought provoking post show ‘q and a’ hosted by writer and actor Matthew Seager, will impact on one in three of us in some shape or form.
All rather chilling, all rather scary.
Despite the splendid work done by charities such as the Alzheimer’s Society, we are no nearer as a society to finding a cure – although the play looks at the therapeutic role that music can play in helping restore the dying memories of those coping with this awful illness.
In Other Words, directed by Paul Brotherston, is beautifully acted by Mr Seager (Arthur) and Celeste Dodwell (Jane, an Australian). It flitters between their first meeting when Arthur spills red wine on Jane so as to ensure he can buy her another drink and continue their conversation and dancing. And Arthur’s painful descent into the hell that is dementia.
The loss of memory, the anger and frustrations on both sides of their relationship and the regular visits to the specialist where Arthur’s decline is made obvious – his inability to remember the doctor’s face, the day of the week and his struggle to identify pictures shown to him – apple, Labrador, grass becomes just apple and maypole.
At one stage Jane contemplates drowning him in a bath – ‘let him die, let me be the one to do it’. It is a comment that stems from love. She just cannot bear the thought of him slipping away and no longer being able to recognise her.
As Arthur’s memory scrambles he calls her a ‘nasty bitch’. A sobering reminder of the mood swings that many dementia sufferers can be prone to.
Arthur’s (tear jerking) immersion into dementia is framed by the music of Frank Sinatra, the songs they have danced to throughout their relationship.
Whenever Frank is crooning (especially when he sings Fly Me to the Moon) Arthur flickers momentarily out of dementia and wants to dance with the love of his life. These are poignant moments in a heart-breaking play.
The play, 70 minutes long, may be difficult to watch, especially for those with parents and loved ones affected by dementia.
There are moments when it is impossible to hold back the tears. No more so than when Arthur is sitting in front of the television and repeatedly telling Jane how much he loves ‘this one’ and asking her: ‘have you seen it?’
But it is also an intimate love story, helped by real on-stage chemistry between Mr Seager and Ms Dodwell. Despite Arthur’s journey towards memory wipe-out and Jane’s loss of the man she married, love binds them together.
‘I love you’, says Arthur. ‘I love you’, responds Jane. In the background, Sinatra sings the last words to Fly Me to the Moon:
‘You are all I long for, all I worship and adore
In other words, please be true
In other words
In other words
I love you.’ Perfect symmetry.
The Hope Theatre is an obvious choice for this play. It is intimate (all 50 seats were sold) which means the audience feel every twist and turn in the couple’s relationship. The set is almost bare bar for two chairs and a lampshade.
‘The Father’, starring Kenneth Cranham, justifiably won plaudits for tackling dementia issues when it ran at the Tricycle Theatre and in the West End in 2015 and 2016.
The Bush Theatre’s production of Vistors by Barney Norris (2014) also took a haunting look at the impact of dementia.
In Other Words deserves similar praise – as well as a transfer to another London theatre such as Trafalgar Studios or the acclaimed Finborough.
It is a play I urge you to watch because it forces you to face an illness of our time – one that we would rather ignore in the hope it will never impact on us (remember, one in three).
Mr Seager got the idea for the play at Leeds University after spending time with those suffering from dementia.
It has taken a while for the play to evolve and crystallise but mark my words Mr Seager is both a talented playwright and an extraordinary actor. He is co-founder of Off The Middle, a group dedicated to developing quality new writing. On this evidence, it is working well.
Let us hope the work of the Alzheimer’s Society, charities such as Playlist for Life (which provides tools and training so that dementia sufferers can restore memories through listening to personal music) and the works of Mr Seager and Mr Florian Zeller (The Father) help us find a cure for dementia.
Sooner rather than later. That is the hope – from The Hope.
PS: Tickets are still available for shows on both March 17 and 18.