Interview: Matthew Seager, Bobblehat Festival

With Christmas now just a couple of weeks away, it’s fair to say the holiday season is well and truly upon us. And this year there’s a special festive surprise (or 24 of them, to be more accurate) lying in wait around Wimbledon, courtesy of the team at Bobblehat. But what’s it all about, and why should we be excited?

“Bobblehat is London’s first live advent calendar,” explains Creative Producer Matthew Seager. “Every day from 1st to 24th December a different door opens somewhere in the Wimbledon area, and an exciting event takes place. We’ve got poetry, theatre, music, dance, comedy and much more. 24 events, 24 days, 24 locations… what’s not to be excited about! Oh, and it’s all FREE…”

Extempore (20th December)

Bobblehat is the first project for William Alder Productions, which was founded in 2016 to create new experiences for audiences by putting on exciting events in unusual places. “Will is the Artistic Director, running the event with me and General Manager Sam Griffiths,” says Matthew. “Will worked on a similar event in Winchester back in 2015, although we think the idea of the advent festival originated in Stockholm.

“Both producers are born and brought up in Wimbledon, so it seemed to make sense to launch here. This festival is all about great events in unexpected places, so I think it takes a pretty in depth understanding of the layout and location of the town to really match the right act with the right location.”

With so many different locations to organise, the team first had to secure support from the local business community. Fortunately, that didn’t prove to be a problem: “The response has been overwhelmingly positive,” says Matthew. “Firstly, the festival would most definitely not have gone ahead without the sponsorship and all round support of Love Wimbledon, who are just brilliant. In general, when seeking support from a local business, the most successful approach is just to be passionate about the event and the town. These people own a business in Wimbledon so, in general, it we’re able to get them excited about this then they are happy to support.”

Louise Alder (23rd December)

Matthew and the team have particularly loved the challenge of putting together the month-long programme: “I think that’s one of my favourite parts. We’re in a position to contact artists we already have a relationship with, as well as get in contact with artists we’ve always admired and wanted to work with. Also it’s an opportunity to go to Edinburgh and see lots of shows all over the UK in search of a truly varied programme.”

With the festival now nine days in, there have already been plenty of highlights – and Matthew assures us there are plenty more to look forward to. “They’re all my favourites! They really balance each other out, which is important. We opened with award-winning Shakespeare company The HandleBards in the lower car park of Centre Court shopping centre, we’ve had a silent disco guided tour and an interactive musical family show where you colour in your favourite Christmas meal.

“Coming up we’ve got sketch comedy double act Goodbear on the 14th, who sold out at the Soho Theatre recently. I’m really excited about Extempore theatre – of Showstopper! The Improvised Musical in the West End – with their two-hander Rhapsodes on the 20th, Lead Suspect, a dog murder mystery, on the 21st, and internationally award-winning Soprano Louise Alder on the 23rd. But they are alllll brilliant and there’s definitely something for everyone.”

Attending a Bobblehat event is easy – and if you’re out and about in Wimbledon you might even find yourself turning up to one by accident… “You can’t book tickets, you just turn up to the door that is advertised on our website or social media,” explains Matthew. “It will open at either 4pm or 7pm, and away we go. There will be a sign outside and we’ve definitely had people stumble upon events whilst out and about. I wasn’t sure how that would work going into this, but it’s wonderful to attract both groups of people who have researched the event as well as those who just happen to be around.”

Check out the Bobblehat website or follow @wearebobblehat to see what’s coming up. All events are free to attend.

Review: In Other Words at The Hope Theatre

Off the Middle’s Matthew Seager was inspired to write his debut play, In Other Words, by 10 weeks facilitating sensory stimulation workshops in a dementia care home during his last year of uni. A residency with the Lyric Hammersmith’s Emerging Artists Programme followed, and now In Other Words finds its way to the Hope Theatre, directed by Paul Brotherston.

The story follows Arthur and Jane throughout 50 years of their relationship, charting the devastating impact of Alzheimer’s disease on their marriage and life together. It’s an undoubtedly harrowing play to watch – don’t expect to leave without shedding a tear or several – but also contains a glimmer of hope. Because this is also a story about music and its incredible ability to anchor people in reality, even when little else remains of the person they once were.

Photo credit: Alex Fine
Photo credit: Alex Fine

Much of the play’s impact is felt in the performances of Matthew Seager and Celeste Dodwell, who are both devastatingly good in their roles as Arthur and Jane. In good times and bad, their relationship is 100% believable – as is Seager’s careful portrayal of dementia as Arthur gradually slips away, and Dodwell’s of Jane’s gut-wrenching grief. The whole play is unflinchingly, brutally honest about the experience of living with Alzheimer’s – not just for Arthur, but for Jane too, who stays at her husband’s side as he descends into a spiral of denial, confusion and rage, but not without privately confessing feelings of resentment, anger, and guilt at having failed to spot the signs and do something sooner.

Apart from one passing reference to middle age, it’s not totally clear how old the couple are meant to be or how quickly the disease is progressing, the only real hint of context in the Sinatra-led soundtrack. Even so, the two actors are clearly younger than their characters – a harsh reminder that dementia sufferers aren’t just “old people”, but people who were once young and full of life: dancing, falling in love, laughing, arguing, singing badly – just like the rest of us. The couple tell us their story together, looking back with tenderness on their happy times as well as the harder years, the love between them as alive as it was in the beginning. And through it all, one song – Fly Me To The Moon – has the power to reach out and heal any wounds, however deep they may be.

Photo credit: Alex Fine
Photo credit: Alex Fine

In a space too small for set changes (or indeed much of a set at all), lighting and sound design from Will Alder and Iida Aino combine to situate the action: in a busy pub with music playing in the background; in a living room so silent and full of pain that a ticking clock becomes the only sound; in the doctor’s office as Arthur struggles to remember three simple words… Each detail is spot on and beautifully observed, as are the scenes in which Arthur’s thoughts are drowned out by a wave of white noise and blue light that fills the space in moments when it all gets too much.

In Other Words makes no excuses and covers up none of the harsh details of living with dementia. But it also paints a picture of a love that endures – and will continue to endure – even beyond the cruellest of circumstances. Funny and heartbreaking, charming and brutal, this is a powerful debut that’s not to be missed… but remember to take tissues.

Can’t see the map on iPhone? Try turning your phone to landscape and that should sort it. I don’t know why but I’m working on it… 😉