I first met this week’s guest six years ago when I was told that a young actor had written his debut play about a couple who have been together for decades when one of them, Arthur, succumbs to dementia. The playwright was keen to talk to me because he wanted to ensure that his portrayal of dementia and the power of music for those living with it, was as true as it could be. As you might imagine, I was only too pleased to meet this unknown dramatist: the request in itself was such a good sign.

And when Matthew Seager came to have a chat with me some months before his play opened, I became even more convinced that he was on to something. His play, In Other Words, didn’t disappoint. It distils dementia – what it is to have it, what it is to watch someone you love being lost to it – into just 75 minutes, pulling its audience into the emotional turmoil that unfailingly accompanies this cruel condition.

Matthew told me that he’d been inspired to write it after visiting a dementia care home during his drama studies at Leeds university. For one module, students could decide which aspects of the performative process they wanted to focus on: Matt chose care homes and applied theatre.
He visited Berkeley Court care home and researched which of the senses triggered the most powerful reactions and memories in people living with dementia.

Each sensory stimulation session was book-ended with music that might mean something to the residents; Matt witnessed seemingly lost individuals who could no longer speak stand up and sing every word of songs connecting them to their early life.

The 21-year-old Matthew was blown away by what he’d seen and vowed one day to use his experiences creatively – while continuing his training at the prestigious Royal Conservatoire of Scotland he began working on In Other Words.

It debuted in 2017 at Islington’s Hope Theatre and I found it very moving to watch. With virtually no props and a scattering of evocative songs the couple switch between life before and life after, Arthur’s condition takes hold. The play powerfully conveys the ups and downs, the flaming rows and never-ending confusion and grief of a married couple experiencing dementia together.

The saving grace is their song, Sinatra’s Fly Me to the Moon, which never loses its magic for Arthur and when things get too much – when, as Arthur puts it, “It feels like I am breaking”, the tune’s familiar phrases and rhythms pull him back from the brink, and reveal the tenderness and love that still exist between him and Jane.

I can do no better to sum up the play’s profound impact on its audience than quote from one theatre-goer, who said:

“Thank you for letting me finally cry over the death of my beautiful nan. She had vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s and I cared for her for two years. After she died, I never cried. I think the pain and loss traumatised me so much. That was until I saw the show tonight. When Arthur was in his advanced stages and the earphones were put in and the music played, that’s when the tears began to flow. It made me feel again. It felt so good to cry. Your play did that to me. It seemed to unlock all the pain in me. I didn’t know theatre could be so powerful.”.

The show has been staged in Scotland and Ireland, where it scooped multiple awards in the All Ireland One Act Finals.