Reasons To Stay Alive
The Crucible, Sheffield, then touring ★★★✩✩
ADAPTING Matt Haig’s best-selling account of his mental health issues must have been a tricky proposition for English Touring Theatre and Sheffield Theatres.
Dramatising a very internal battle of a 20-something is difficult to pull off. But generally, this interesting, funny and moving production succeeds.
That’s mainly because it’s directed by a choreographer, Jonathan Watkins, who gives Haig’s depression a weight and heft in the tortured movements of Mike Noble, as Younger Matt.
There always seems to be an inventive solution to depicting many of the key ideas in the book, even if they don’t all work perfectly. Haig’s list of famous sufferers of depression becomes a chant as the cast run on the spot — running being one of the things that helps Haig on the road to a hard-won recovery.
After a slow start, Janet Etuk comes into her own as Andrea, Haig’s girlfriend and rock, and one of the most telling scenes is when the focus is turned on her as his carer.
But actually, it’s Older Matt who feels like his, and our, guardian angel.
Phil Cheadle plays him with just enough wisdom and wit to overcome the sense that in some way every line he utters is a plot spoiler — given that he is guiding Haig through to the life he lives now.
‘Be brave, be strong, breathe and keep going’ is his mantra by the end of the play — which might sound just a bit too close to the homespun platitudes that Haig rails against when dealing with those who can’t find the right words to say to somebody who is struggling with mental health issues.
But Reasons To Stay Alive is allowed to be sentimental. After all, Haig found the reasons.