Reasons to Stay Alive
Sheffield Theatres with English Touring Theatre
Crucible Theatre Studio
The first thing the audience sees on entering the Crucible studio is strange, intriguing, almost unreadable set. How could this relate to a play about depression?
The moment the action starts, the set opens and the actors fling themselves on stage and engage in violent, frenetic dancing to wild music. All is clear. What we are looking at is the inside of a brain, a brain in agony and anguish.
After succumbing to life-changing depression at 24, Matt Haig gradually began to find a purpose in life and became the author of several books of fiction for adults and children and also wrote the non-fiction book Reasons for Living which became an acclaimed Sunday Times best-seller published in 29 countries around the world.
The book has now been brought to the stage by adaptor April de Angelis and director Jonathan Watkins, with support from a talented creative team.
The play presents a great deal of information about depression, anxiety, panic and associated physical pain within a framing device in which the Older Matt gradually leads the Younger Matt to come to terms with his condition. The pathway relates closely to Matt Haig’s experience.
The starting point is despair and a suicide attempt when Matt decides to keep alive for other people, particularly his loving parents and girlfriend who play such an important part in his recovery.
The episodic structure accompanied by relevant labels covers a wide ground: the unwillingness to get out of bed, fear of leaving the house, unhelpful comments by acquaintances.
He is persuaded that medication is not necessarily the answer, but that there is solace to be found in literature and music and that physical exercise is helpful. A strong episode towards the end of the play shows Matt in a group of runners shouting out the names of famous people, past and present, who have learnt to live with depression and had successful lives.
The Older Matt recalls the slow process of recovery he went through and acts as a counsellor for his younger self. The play allows us to focus on the experience of the ONE which represents the experience of MANY.
Because this is a strongly emotional journey, Matt is a character that we care about and can empathise with. Each small step is a challenge and a victory from walking down to the shops to putting pen to paper.
The more informational scenes are leavened by scenes of non-verbal action, mime and choreographed movement including the use of interdependent trust exercises.
Mike Noble is impressive as the Younger Matt with an emotional range that brings depth to the character and enriches the context. There is a sensitive performance from Phil Cheadle as the Older Matt and strong support from Chris Donnelly and Connie Walker as Mum and Dad and Janet Etuk as Andrea who later becomes Matt’s wife. Dilek Rose and others display considerable versatility in a variety of roles.
This will be an important play for anyone who has experienced depression and a valuable source of information for those who know little about it.
Reviewer: Velda Harris