Earlier this month, I saw in other words at the Hope Theatre, a beautiful show which marries music and memory. Writer and actor Matthew Seager and Producer Stephanie Withers took the time to talk to me about the themes in the show and performing in this intimate space.
How would you describe the show?
Matthew Seager: Primarily it’s a love story about the power of music. Yes, a central theme is Alzheimer’s disease but it’s heart really requires you to fall on love with this couple, what they have and, ultimately, what they will lose. Importantly, there’s also lightness, humour, dancing, and lots of Frank Sinatra!
What are the important themes at work in your play?
MS: Love, of course. As mentioned, we need you to fall in love with Arthur and Jane, or at least for their love of each other. They spend a fair bit of time talking to the audience about their story and each other, and this works really well.
Dispossession and loss were words that cropped up for us a lot in rehearsal. What does it cost these characters to tell this story in the way they are? What are they losing? Continuing to ask ourselves that question is proving seriously useful in keeping the story and material fresh and ever changing.
Do they resonate on a personal level? What effect does having it as a two hander have?
MS: I absolutely think they resonate on a personal level, because the themes are universal. We’ve had some astonishingly emotional feedback from audience members who are going through things similar to our characters, as well as from those who are experience loss in any way, or those who aren’t, but just connect with what’s happening.
I think that’s such a positive we’ve taken from the process. Every audience member will connect to a different part of the story because of circumstantial familiarity, but the theme their connecting to, is the same.
The intimacy of a two-hander in this space is GREAT. You are in the room with them and feeling their high’s and lows throughout.
What can you tell us about the world of the play, brought to life in the Hope Theatre?
Stephanie Withers: We are invited into the world of Jane and Arthur’s relationship, which they share with the audience. The best way to do this we felt, was to make the audience feel at home with them, to feel connected and intimate with the characters. The Hope Theatre is the perfect venue to do this in, it’s a cosy space which means the audience are close to the actors, and we can really make a personal connection with them, making them feel as if they are sitting with Arthur and Jane in their living room.
What role does music play with regards to Alzheimer’s, both in this production and off stage?
SW: Personal meaningful music is a powerful thing to everyone; a song can instantly transport you back to a memory, a time and a place where you heard that song, and you can briefly relive that moment. What you see onstage is the effect personal meaningful music can have on those suffering with Alzheimer’s, how momentarily those suffering can be brought back and remember things, when the disease has made them loose their grip on reality. Matthew has witnessed these events first hand when working in a Dementia car home in Leeds during our time at University, which initially sparked the idea for this piece, and the powerful effect music can have on those suffering is a reality, which we felt compelled to share onstage.
And finally, what is your favourite Sinatra song?
SW: ‘That’s Life’.
MS: ‘My Way’.