Theatre review: In Other Words, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh

Type the phrase “play about Alzheimer’s” into your search engine, and in seconds literally dozens of recent titles will appear, from the award-winning play and film Still Alice, to Linda Duncan McLaughlin’s memorable 2015 Scottish play Descent. One article lists nine recent well-known films dealing with the subject; and it’s safe to say that most of these dramas aim to remind people that Alzheimer’s sufferers, and those who care for them, are not “them” but “us”, not some distant demographic group, but ourselves, now or in a possible future.

Playwright Matthew Seager as Arthur and Angela Hardie as Jane in In Other Words

Theatre review: In Other Words, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh ****

Matthew Seager’s play In Other Words – first seen in London in 2017, and now on tour – is no exception; but in Paul Brotherston’s production, it is outstanding for the skill and simplicity with which it uses the power of theatre to achieve this profound identification between characters and audience.

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When we enter the theatre, Arthur and Jane are already on stage, a good-looking young couple chatting and canoodling on the two simple arm-chairs that dominate the set. They look like many of the members of the audience; and so the shock is redoubled when, within moments, we see them transformed into elderly patient and carer, Arthur hunched in his chair unable to speak, and an ageing Jane struggling to get him into his shoes.

Over 75 rich and harrowing minutes, cutting backwards and forwards through time, the play tells the story of their life together, gradually focusing in on his illness; Seager himself, as Arthur, and Angela Hardie as Jane, deliver a pair of exquisite, beautifully detailed performances, shifting in an instant from the fluent body-language of the young and beautiful, to the painful, restricted movement of the old and frail.

The particular aim of this play is to highlight the special power of music to help keep Alzheimer’s sufferers connected to the world, and to those they love; heartbreakingly, Frank Sinatra’s wonderful version of Fly Me To The Moon is Jane and Arthur’s song, they one they danced to on the night they met, the one that still reaches him enough for them to have a final dance together in their own home.

And that thread of music and meaning, running through this fine and moving play, is enough in itself to remind us of all the beauty and joy of life; and of the truth that the best we can do, for those touched by this terrible disease, is to help them hold on to every surviving fragment of that, for as long as they possibly can. - Joyce McMillan

Touring to Tron Theatre, Glasgow, 6-9 March