Q&A: Matthew Seager, In Other Words

In Other Words was inspired by writer and performer Matthew Seager’s experiences volunteering in a care home before the pandemic. First performed in 2017 (when Theatre Things reviewed it during its run at The Hope Theatre), the critically acclaimed two-hander now returns in a new filmed version which is available to watch online from today. In our Q&A Matthew talks about what inspired him to tell Arthur and Jane’s love story, and how the show’s been adapted in 2021 for a digital audience.

Can you briefly summarise what the show’s about?

In Other Words is a love story which, connected by the music of Frank Sinatra, explores the effects of Alzheimer’s disease and the transformative power of music in our lives. We are led through 50 years of Arthur and Jane’s relationship, jumping in and out of memories and experiencing a failing mind as it loses its grip on reality. 

Why was this a story you wanted to tell?

When I first experienced the extraordinary power that music can have in keeping those living with dementia connected to themselves and the world around them, it really felt like a light bulb moment for me in relation to storytelling. Firstly, I couldn’t believe that more people didn’t know about this. There was already plenty of work being made about dementia but very little to do with music. My research then led me to understanding that this specific school of thought was fairly recent, and incredible documentaries like Alive Inside, or phenomenal charities like Playlist for Life were only fairly new. 

It’s such a moving thing to witness when a person living with dementia is able to recount memories or ‘live again’ through the power of music. It’s also intensely theatrical as it’s equal parts epic and beautiful, but also deeply intimate as it requires personal connection to songs and relationships. That’s what we all relate to, the personal connection.

How did you first discover the powerful effects of music for people with dementia?

In my last year studying at the University of Leeds, we were facilitating ten weeks of sensory stimulation workshops in a dementia care home. We would play music at the end of each session which we think might connect with a time in the young adult lives of the residents. What we witnessed was profoundly moving and, in some ways, life changing for me.

Residents who were seemingly totally cognitively unaware, or mostly non-verbal, would stand and sing every word to a song that connected with them from earlier on in their life. Not only that, but they were subsequently much more able to speak about their lives with clarity. 

What made you decide to produce a filmed version of the play, and why now?

We’d always thought it’d translate well to film. It’s an intimate show which is purposefully simple and direct in its storytelling. It relies on developing a relationship with the audience which is something appealing to translate to camera. 

We had two tours curtailed as a result of the pandemic and so it felt as though, if we were ever going to do it, now was the time!

How did you go about adapting the piece for a digital audience?

Mostly it was about forming the right team. I did a lot of watching of digital theatre and contacted the cinematographers and DOPs whose work I felt visually aligned with the ideas we had. We didn’t really know what we were doing, so the key was to make sure everyone involved was on the same page about how we wanted the piece to feel, and then we could go about seeking advice on the best ways to communicate and achieve that.

Can you tell us a bit about Playlist for Life?

Playlist for Life was founded in 2013 by writer and broadcaster Sally Magnusson after the death of her mother, who lived with dementia, to ensure that everyone living with the condition has a playlist of personal music and that everyone who cares for them to know how to use it effectively.

The charity’s work is based on more than two decades of research showing that ‘personal music’ – the specific tunes attached to someone’s emotions that spark memories – can help those living with dementia by alleviating stress, managing symptoms and strengthening relationships with family members and carers.

We have been working with them since the first iteration of the show in 2017. Their work is so perfectly aligned with ours, it’s been such a special part of the process. Excitingly, we now hope to offer the film as part of their e-learning resources used in higher educational institutions across the UK.

Finally, where and when can we watch it?

You can watch it from Monday 27th September to Sunday 10th October. We think this is a great opportunity for the production to be made available to those who may not have previously been able to watch it, and all tickets will be ‘Pay What You Can’. 

It’ll be streamed via Eventbrite: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/in-other-words-digital-theatre-tickets-169849730115 and tickets can be purchased via the website or by searching ‘In Other Words Digital Theatre’

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