Review by Raphael Kohn
Fly me to the Arcola Theatre, let me sit in studio 2… these are not quite the lyrics that the great singer Frank Sinatra sung in the immortal classic ‘Fly Me To The Moon’, but it’s an accurate representation of how you should feel about this poignant and charming play, presented in the smaller downstairs space in Dalston’s Arcola Theatre. Opening in the Arcola after a UK tour and online production during the Covid-19 pandemic, it’s a story of the enduring power of love through the progressive difficulties of Alzheimer’s disease, and it’s a beautiful, bittersweet treat.
Much of the play is framed around Frank Sinatra’s music, with the title of the show coming from ‘Fly Me To The Moon’, with appearances of ‘Beyond The Sea’ and other classics referencing back this framing device. With a cast of only two, it’s a charming story of a couple brought together by the music, and as one of them is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and begins to progressively develop greater cognitive difficulties, held together by their mutual love for the music.
And so, with this structuring giving us glimpses into Arthur (performed by writer Matthew Seager) and Jane (Lianne Harvey)’s relationship over the years, we uncover the changes Alzheimer’s makes to their love. The non-linear structuring, interspersing scenes in the past, when Arthur and Jane first meet, with scenes of the beginning of their relationship followed soon by narration delivered out of the narrative, and scenes at a hospital and at home as Arthur’s illness progresses delivered not always entirely in a linear order, yet nonetheless with a clear narrative throughout.
They are an absorbing pair. They meet after a chance encounter at a bar, him accidentally spilling her wine, and instantly bond. He’s awkward, she’s confident; they are a match made in heaven. We see them telling their story in a space separate from the narrative, with the two of them presenting the story of their relationship as if to a group of friends, with each performer exchanging cheeky glances with audience members and interacting together as if they’d known each other their entire lives. Such is the strength of their chemistry that they are an instantly believable pair, and are a joy to watch together.
They have a lot to work with – Matthew Seager’s script is irresistibly charming, funny and heart-wrenchingly beautiful.It’s unsurprising that this won four Moliere awards for its French production, it’s a brilliantly-written journey through this couple’s relationship that, despite its non-linear form, is never confusing, and never disorienting. Seager himself plays Arthur with a tremendous amount of understanding, intricately delivering every detail of his characterisation to a point. Although it’s a touch strange at first to see such a young man playing an old man with Alzheimer’s disease, he manages to perform the role so brilliantly you can barely imagine that anyone else could ever play the role.
That is no mean feat, either. The roles are not easy at all, demanding tremendous emotional effort from both its performers, bringing out the pain and the fear that both members of the couple face as they navigate the course through Arthur’s illness. Lianne Harvey, as Jane, delivers a perfect counterpoint to Seager’s Arthur, with love in her eyes and almost desperation as she strains to hold on to her husband. She is perhaps the most poignant of the two, as she grapples with the effect of his illness on her, and is a mesmerising performer to watch.
Thankfully, Andy Routledge’s production does not bring out much to obscure the simplicity and delicacy of the performances. The design is simple, letting Seager and Harvey do the bulk of the work in their performances, and Itworks. The only exception is Will Alder’s lighting design, which intelligently suggests each setting, which while not quite as minimalist as the other design elements, works brilliantly.
At 70 minutes, it’s not exactly a long play, but it’s a good one. Written with heart aplenty and with two perfectly-matchedperformers bringing out the beauty in this love story, it’s an utter treat that captivates, enthralls and entertains for the its entire runtime. At a time when so many of us know someone who is affected by, or is indeed affected themselves by, Alzheimer’s disease, this enchanting play is just what we need to see the beauty in enduring love.
In Other Words plays at the Arcola Theatre until 30th September 2023. Tickets are available from https://www.arcolatheatre.com/whats-on/in-other-words/
Photos by Tom Dixon