In Other Words
Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
***** (5 stars)
Heartbreakingly brilliant, this portrayal of a deeply loving relationship that somehow survives in infinitesimally brief moments during Arthur’s increasingly rapid descent into a demented state in which he no longer recognises Jane and has no idea where he is brings tears to the eyes and a smile to the lips at one and the same time.
We first see an ageing Jane on her knees, struggling to get Arthur’s feet into his shoes and do them up while he stares vacantly into space, his face quivering and trembling: and then he rises to his feet, the years falling from him, as he recounts his version of The Incident – the accidental? deliberate? way they first met – the collision, the red wine spilt, the frightfully apologetic Englishman encountering the ‘exotic foreigner’ whose accent he can’t recognise as Scottish…
Several ‘replacement’ drinks later they dance to the Frank Sinatra number that becomes their signature tune – In Other Words [I love you] – and that’s the moment for each of them when they know ‘this is the one’. We see the progress of their relationship, the love and care they have for each other and how, no matter how much Jane is irritated by Arthur’s behaviour, she can always be brought round with that song and the invitation to dance.
Arthur has already confided in us that [in his version of the story] The Incident wasn’t accidental: now he tells us of the beginnings of his forgetting – a fifteen-minute trip to the shops for milk and stamps that extends to twice that length because the first time he gets to the shop he can’t recall what he went for: it’s only when he reaches his front door that he remembers, and has to go back. The mental, aural, visual fuzz he experiences is expressed with flickering light and confusedly muffled static – and this increases as he begins to be unable to understand what is being said to him or is confused by his surroundings or tries to go to help ‘the woman in the garden who is most unhappy’.
Jane provides her own commentary – once you become an expert, it’s easy to look back and see the beginnings, the signs, the warnings: but at the time you simply don’t realise… Arthur becomes increasingly confused, his memory begins to fail, his grasp of words diminishes, and his frustration and incomprehension explodes into anger when Jane won’t let him drive to the appointment and he hurls abuse at her. Jane reveals to the doctor how weary she is, how hurt she is, and at one point how she wishes she could simply drown him while he is sitting happily in the bath humming out of tune as she sings while bathing him.
Finally Arthur is as we saw him at the beginning – slumped in his enclosed world, oblivious to her, mumbling to himself – but still able to be called to lucidity by the music that has been with him and Jane the whole of their life together: ‘red’ he mumbles, and for a split second he remembers The Incident, the spilled wine, the dance…
Two outstanding performances from Angela Hardie and Matthew Seager; a simple set – two armchairs and a standard lamp; and a soundtrack of Sinatra songs that weaves its way into our hearts. We recognise the deep love that somehow survives almost intolerable strain, and witness the incredible power of music to bring people back from the world in which they have become trapped/ lost through dementia.
There was loud and prolonged applause from a profoundly-moved audience. We were invited to give a donation and/ or stay for a q&a session with someone from Playlist for Life, founded by Sally Magnusson to promote the use and understanding of personal playlists for people suffering from dementia. [see playlistforlife.org.uk]
In Other Words, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh Run ends Saturday 2nd March then tours to Glasgow’s Tramway.
Review by Mary Woodward