Writer: Matthew Seager
Director: Paul Brotherston
Reviewer: Dominic Corr
Something which makes us human is how we shackle ourselves to memories. They often define us, mould us and certainly impact our sense of self. When we lose these, this has a crueller, more twisted effect than other afflictions. Off the Middle production works together with Playlist for Life to produce In Other Words – a slow breaking of the heart, yet a stunning showcase of love, compassion and intimacy whilst struggling with Alzheimer’s.
Music has a profound effect on some memory degenerative diseases, it’s studying and funding needs to be advanced Weaved throughout are the familiar tunes of Frank Sinatra, snippets which evoke memories to our characters Jane and Arthur of their first meeting. These snippets which, in later life seem to coax memories and a more familiar ‘side’ of Arthur out of his MCI (mild cognitive impairment).
The level of dedication which has gone into Matthew Seager’s performance is simply staggering. Every aspect – physicality, facial expressions, demeanour and even his breathing all come together to not only portray the effects of MCI but also respect the condition. As writer and performer Seager’s level of investigation is evident both from performance but even more so in the intricacies in the scripts narrative, direction and undertones.
So we do not laugh, then just what can we do? Amidst the anguish Seager’s writing focuses on humour. Whilst it may seem uncouth, this is precisely what we need. Just as in life the levity balances the torture, allowing Seager and Angela Hardie as wife Jane the ability to give the audience a sense of chemistry to their characters. More than this, it heightens the decaying nature of Arthur and the distance of their relationship.
Perhaps the most poignant aspect, certainly eye-watering is Hardie’s dialogue in the final moments. The intimate scene with glimpses of happiness and partial clarity from Arthur, make every ounce of pain worth it. When the concept of loving someone crosses into a job, Hardie manages to make us empathise with her. We completely understand the difficulties she faces, we identify with them despite the frustrations and desperate, violent shrieks for peace.
Transitions serve an intelligent, yet still cutting purpose. Lighting and sound design delivered by Will Alder and Iida Aino play a vital role. Outside of the musical theme, Aino’s sound design includes echos and scratches, visceral reminders of the hollow callings inside Arthur’s desperate attempts to reconnect. Soft sepia tones highlight 4th wall breaks which flash into the present. Offering transitions such as an oh-so seductive striptease to a sudden realisation that Arthur’s clothes lay on the ground – he is now unable to dress.
In Other Words, touches the audience, making them cry, laugh, smile but most importantly to think and not to judge. There is no need for apologies, it transcends one person being at fault and recognising that things are difficult for everyone. Off the Middle, and in particular Matthew Seager has created a heart-shattering production which serves to inform, pacify but explore something which we just don’t know much about. Come, enjoy the sounds of Old Blue Eyes and create a memory we should all be sharing.
Runs until 2 March 2019 then continues on tour | Image: Alex Fine