Caro Meets Theatre Interview

Matthew Seager: In Other Words

By | Published on Friday 1 September 2023

You may well have heard of ‘In Other Words’, a play by Matthew Seager that won much acclaim when it was first produced back in 2017, and which returns to London this month for a run at Arcola Theatre before touring to a number of other UK locations. 

The play focuses on the theme of dementia and Alzheimer’s, and this production is being staged during World Alzheimer’s Month and is supported by The Utley Foundation’s Music For Dementia campaign. 

To find out more about the play and the playwright, I spoke to Matthew – who also performs in the production – ahead of the London run. 

CM: Can you start by telling us what ‘In Other Words’ is all about? Whose story does it tell? 
MS: ‘In Other Words’ is a love story between Arthur and Jane. It spans approximately 50 years of their life, beginning from the moment they first meet and leading us through their life together, including Arthur’s diagnosis and battle with Alzheimer’s disease.

CM: What themes are explored through the play? 
MS: At its core it’s a love story and I hope that’s what’s universal about it. We can all relate to feeling love for someone and understand how joyful, funny, frustrating and heartbreaking that can be.

Fundamental to the story is also the power of music in relation to dementia care. We are able to chart their relationship and the trajectory of the disease through their connection to Frank Sinatra’s ‘Fly Me To The Moon’. It’s that song that keeps him connected to Jane and the world around him.

CM: What was the inspiration for it? What made you want to create a piece of work about this? Why did you think it would work as a show? 
MS: When I was in my last year at university in 2010, I was facilitating sensory stimulation workshops in a dementia care home as part of an applied theatre module.

At the end of our first session we decided to play a piece of music that we thought might resonate with a time in the young adult lives of the residents.

We played ‘My Way’ by Frank Sinatra. I was totally floored when almost every resident, even those who seemed to be experiencing severe cognitive decline, stood and sang along. It’s not often that you can pinpoint a life changing moment, but that was certainly one for me.

CM: What is the message of the show? Who do you want to reach?
MS: I want it to reach everyone, which feels like cop out! I think a younger generation who don’t know much about dementia find it really engaging and moving.

We’ve also often had extremely positive feedback from people who have cared for a loved one in the past and who are able to take a kind of emotional catharsis with them.

We want people to leave having been moved and engaged or course, but also hopeful and ready to live in the present. You never know what life will throw at you.

CM: It’s been a few years since the play was first staged. Has it changed or developed in any ways since then?
MS: It’s evolved a fair bit actually. It’s still very much the same play, but I think whenever you revive something you’re coming at it with a certain amount of years more experience and that affects everything.

I first played this part when I was 25 and now I’m 31. Older, wiser and tired-er!

We’re working with a new director and have added quite a lot of material. It’s going to be the best it’s ever been and that was always our aim!

CM: What prompted this revival? Why return it to the stage just now? 
MS: It’s a good question and I think there are a few reasons. First and foremost, I love doing this play more than anything else I’ve done, and when an opportunity presents itself to do it again, I’ll almost always say yes.

I think there’s been a fair bit of extended interest now as a result of some foreign language productions of the play. It has recently been adapted into French and done really well, winning four Moliere Awards including Best Play. I went to see it in Paris with my mum and it was amazing.

I think that success has been a catalyst for continued interest both in the UK and elsewhere.

I also think, perhaps more importantly, that the conversation around music and dementia is becoming more and more present in the public discourse. It’s being used in care homes and even prescribed by doctors. 

CM: Can you tell us a bit about yourself now? How did your creative career begin? Are you doing what you always wanted to do? 
MS: I went to university in Leeds and then Drama School in Glasgow. I graduated in 2015 and have been working as an actor since then.

Since writing ‘In Other Words’ there have been some more opportunities to write which I absolutely love and welcome. I’m nervous to call myself a writer as well, but I suppose maybe I am, or am trying to be at least.

I suppose I am doing what I always wanted to do. I’m making a living doing this and that feels like a win. I do find it difficult to take stock sometimes because there’s always somewhere else you’re trying to get to and it’s certainly not a straightforward life or career choice.

I do feel lucky though and am absolutely loving it – most of the time!

CM: What have been the highlights of your work thus far? 
MS: This project has been a real career highlight for me.

I think being involved as both a writer and performer has made me feel a quite unique connection to it. Also, the reaction we receive from an audience has been profoundly moving for me

I’ve also been lucky enough to tour quite a lot around the world with various plays. Going to Asia and America with a production of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’, for example, was pretty special.

A ‘working holiday’ is what we called it!

CM: What aims and ambitions do you have for the future? 
MS: Professionally, I’d love it if my acting and writing could run parallel to each other.

I want to do both equally if at all possible. Working on this play has been the greatest and most formative experience of my career so far and that feels very lucky.

Anything that makes me feel like this is what I want to do next… That feels quite general doesn’t it!

CM: What’s coming up next for you after this?
MS: I’m going on tour with a production of ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ and then doing a Christmas show called ‘Elves And The Shoemaker’. A varied few months but I wouldn’t have it any other way!

‘In Other Words’ is on at Arcola Theatre from 5-30 Sep. For more information and to book tickets, head to the venue website here.

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