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In Other Words review at the Hope Theatre, Islington – ‘bittersweet and humane’

Celeste Dodwell and Matthew Seager In Other Words at the Hope Theatre, London. Photo: Alex Fine

Exploring the awful impact of Alzheimer’s disease and the potential power of music to rekindle lost memories, In Other Words is humane, heartfelt, and often gruellingly sad. The play – developed during a residency with the Lyric Hammersmith – is inspired by writer Matthew Seager’s experiences providing workshops for dementia patients in residential care, and the script is full of truthful, recognisable detail.

Following a couple from their first encounter through to old age, the story is haltingly narrated by cheeky, charming Arthur, played by a convincing – if occasionally forced – Seager.

Opposite him, Celeste Dodwell gives a nuanced and quietly heartbreaking performance as wife Jane, battling grief and self-recrimination as her husband vanishes before her eyes. Dodwell spends much of the show smiling through her tears, eloquently conveying the depths of her helplessness with fleeting gestures which pierce her desperate cheerfulness.

Director Paul Brotherston keeps the music-loving couple dancing around one another, at first fluidly, but soon with faltering steps. Ambitiously attempting to convey the downward spiral of progressive memory loss, the production becomes increasingly fractured as Arthur deteriorates, with more and more dialogue lost beneath distorted sounds and disorienting echoes. Will Alder’s bold lighting stealthily fills the space with muggy, midnight blue shadows, with rare moments of clarity starkly defined by a bright, warm glow.

Through it all, the music of Frank Sinatra becomes a constant thread, connecting the characters to a happier past. Though far from hopeful, the play makes for a moving depiction of enduring love.

 

Verdict
Bittersweet drama lifted by Celeste Dodwell’s subtly devastating performance
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