”Life is waiting for you. Hang on in there if you can. Life is always worth it.” English Touring Theatre and Sheffield Theatres present Reasons To Stay Alive, the first adaptation of best-selling author Matt Haig’s memoir on depression, imagined for the stage by Jonathan Watkins with text written by April De Angelis.
At the age of twenty-four, Matt’s world collapsed under the weight of depression. This is the true story of his journey out of crisis; a hopeful exploration of continuing to live with depression over a number of years through certain landmarks of life. It lists strategies, highlights damaging misconceptions, and plays out panic attacks with focus, relating them step-by-step.
In the cast are Phil Cheadle as Older Matt (bearing an uncanny physical likeness to Haig) and Mike Noble as Younger Matt with Chris Donnelly (Dad), Janet Etuk (Andrea), Dilke Rose (Dawn/Jenny/Rose) and Connie Walker (Mum). Directed by Jonathan Watkins and designed by Simon Daw, the play presents an oddity of limited abstract imagery and naturalistic dialogue. Daw’s set before it is interrupted by the action is one of the production’s more intriguing aspects; a dusty carcass like the inside of a vacuum cleaner, with scaffolding attached, that then opens outwards for the cast to climb on, the back wall forming a sort of cloud with many nail-like sticks poking forward out of it, which Matt then hides and rests in.
Noble is an interesting choice, at first jarring as a double to Cheadle’s narrating Older Matt as they are so different in every use of their physicality and voice, though transpiring as the only performer to open up the wavelength one imagines is the intention behind the sharing of the story.
Noble’s poignant delivery and some delicate composition by Alex Baranowski is dampened somewhat by the overall execution, which often falls flat in moments meant to be funny, moving or enlightening. One wonders whether now, among a rich variety of imaginative, innovative articulations of mental health in theatre and other media, is the time to tell this particular story. The fragmented nature and simplicity of the reflections presented result in a sort of chaotic lecture on depression itself, confused in its address.
Matt Haig is a British author for children and adults. His memoir Reasons to Stay Alive was a number one bestseller, staying in the British top ten for 46 weeks. One hopes that the show will evolve and re-emerge in a more striking package that better serves the sense of meaning and weight that the book holds for so many.
Reasons to Stay Alive plays at York Theatre Royal until Saturday 9 November, tickets available here.