In Other Words, written by and starring Matthew Seigar, is an emotionally charged insight into the depressing realities of dementia.
Directed by Paul Brotherston, the seventy-minute piece explores the devastating implications of the disease, and the potentially redemptive possibilities of music. With the text tight and well written, and the production equally impressive, the work is a good but, perhaps inevitably, far from an enjoyable ride.
Staged in the cozy, small, and carpeted setting of Hope Theatre, the play begins with Dodwell, an old woman, on her hands and knees, attempting to put a shoe on her husband. Seigar, as Arthur, clutches onto the armchair, shaking, with bended shoulders and the glazed stare of one afflicted by late-stage dementia. Having had a grandmother who suffered at the hand of the disease (‘more than one million people will have the disease by 2021’ writes the programme), as well as having seen my fair share of portrayals of the illness, I was apprehensive.
After this extended, painful beginning, the lights change and we are back half a century or so, as the earnest, young Seigar meets his wife for the first time after an unfortunate wine spillage. They are carefree, good-looking, and fall madly in love.
In Other Words, written in short scenes, delineated by the dramatic use of lighting, captures this couple’s life together. From the good years (dancing to Sinatra, heavily petting, and fooling around) to the beginning of the manifestation of the disease; from losing keys, to going to the shop and forgetting what to buy; to escalating arguments between the pair, and the inevitable, dreaded diagnosis.
The writing was undoubtedly skillful, representing the pain and loss with palpable force. Dodwell was brilliant as the indirect victim of the disease; the pretty, kind wife knocked for six by the authority of natural laws, which do, ultimately, always govern. We witness as she goes from sharing a life with a man she loves, largely untainted by any great tragedy, to becoming a carer for someone who no longer remembers her name.
Seigar was in some ways less convincing. His intensity at times fell into over-acting, and, apart from the end, when the dementia was extreme, I never forgot he was a twenty-something year old man.
Lighting (Will Alder) and sound (Lida Aino) combined to dramatically reflect the darkness, and fear-induced paralysis of living in an increasingly incomprehensible world. In terms of both the writing, directing and production, there was something extremely reminiscent of Florian Zeller’s The Father, a play on a similar subject, which debuted at the Wyndham’s last year.
By the end of the play, tears welled in some audience members’ eyes, as the early blooming of love was juxtaposed with the terrors of late stage dementia. While some might say such a strong reaction is a testament to the heights of the show, I felt at times it was some sort of emotional robbery. Far from a voluntary offering, it felt like some sort of manipulation. A constant series of extreme emotional triggers without cessation.
After the show, I asked my friend what she thought and she agreed with me: Seigar’s an impressive writer, and a good actor; Dodwell is a superb performer, and no doubt she will go far. Did my friend enjoy it? Not at all.
In Other Words is playing at The Hope Theatre until 18 March. For more information and tickets, see thehopetheatre.com.