Matt Haig’s Reasons to Stay Alive is already a well known, much loved and impactful book which is part self-help manual, part autobiography. English Touring Theatre and Sheffield Theatres have taken on board the bestseller that has changed and even saved many lives.
Between all the teams, a production has been created which is perfectly balanced, well thought out and carefully takes on the sensitive subject of depression. This production is an elegant and brilliant visual representation of the complex subject of mental illness.
The story follows Matt’s story and his depression from nearly killing himself in Ibiza to conquering a pilgrimage to the local shop for milk. Text writer April De Angelis focuses on the conversations across time from the book between the younger Matt, who at 24 and his older self.
Phil Cheadle as older Matt and Mike Noble as younger Matt interact wonderfully as time warps and brings the two characters close to become each others conscious. The rest of the cast swap between various characters but mostly are constant as Matt’s supportive and helpful girlfriend and his not-so-supportive and not-so-helpful parents.
The production is sold as an adaptation through words, movement and music and there are a few moments of movement to music which I felt didn’t quite have the desired impact. The production could have been just as strong without these elements, it didn’t need it but it didn’t hinder it.
An element that worked much better were the lists woven into the plot. Lists of celebrities with depression shouted out, lists of things Matt wishes someone had told him and lists of “Things depression says to you” and “Things which got me more sympathy than depression” are unique, imaginative and humorous. These were a welcome lighthearted breath and change of pace amongst a serious production.
Matt has a magical way of explaining inexplicable emotions within his book and this translated well onto stage. It is informative and intriguing, as well as being really funny and genuinely heart wrenching.