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Reasons to Stay Alive @ Old Vic ★★★★

The dramatisation of Haig’s mental health memoir attempts to break down the stigma from depression by showing Haig’s personal experiences of mental health.

By Livi Player, Arts Editor

In a skillful and clever adaptation of Reasons to Stay Alive, English Touring Theatre and Sheffield Theatres truly bring Haig’s bestselling self-help book to life. The dramatisation of Haig’s mental health memoir attempts to break down the stigma from depression by showing Haig’s personal experiences of mental health.

Johan Perrson Photography
Johan Perrson Photography 

Seeing the words brought to theatre was truly enthralling; from Matt’s stories of his past, to the pain of his present. Younger Matt, played by Mike Noble, spectacularly demonstrates the sudden shifts from life before his illness to his life now, with the lack of a linear, straightforward narrative showing his great distress and the physically demanding and complex emotions he experiences.

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Reasons to Stay Alive has been a book. It has had an album (thanks to @andywburrows). And it is now going to be a PLAY. (I am the multi-genre Walt Disney of despair.) It is touring England this autumn and will be stopping by Sheffield, Manchester, Bristol, Huddersfield, Leeds and Newcastle. (These are the only dates so far.) The cast has just been announced. My younger self is going to be played by brilliant Mike Noble who starred as Christopher in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time during its West End run. Going to be weird for me watching this one! Amazing actors, writer (April de Angelis) and director (Jonathan Watkins), coming to some of the classiest theatres in the country. Strange but good.

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Two actors embody Younger Matt and Older Matt, with the central idea being Older Matt, played by Phil Cheadle, eases Younger Matt through his first crippling pain of depression by being there for his younger self, reassuring him that things will get better in a conversation across time: ‘it may be a dark cloud passing across the sky but - if that is the metaphor - you are the sky. You were there before it. And the cloud can't exist without the sky, but the sky can exist without the cloud.’

Johan Perrson Photography

The simplicity of the set design adds character to the performance, contrasting with the unsimplicity of the unique mind. Consisting of three movable climbing frames, closely resembling a brain, the set symbolises the fragmentation of Matt’s mind throughout the performance as the cast effortlessly rotate, separate and bring together the different parts of the set.

Undoubtedly, Reasons to Stay Alive does not fail to show the power of love and the importance of the unwavering support from Matt’s family and girlfriend throughout his illness. Director, Jonathan Watkins, perfectly captures the importance of love in the words of the performance itself: ‘tough love doesn’t work. Turns out that just good old “love” is enough.’ It is truly a heartwarming and heartbreaking performance all at once.

Johan Perrson Photography

The performance perfectly captures the conversations inside Matt’s head, including Haig’s love of lists which are humorously read on stage by the whole cast. One particularly beautiful moment was Matt’s rediscovery of the power of books. The cast cleverly fasten the books of the performance to the spikes of the set as reminders of good things in Matt’s life, which acted as a kind of therapy for Haig. The performance and the book are certainly informative but Haig’s personal experiences remain at the heart of the story.

Johan Perrson Photography

Closely aligning with the book, including Tweets, chapter titles plastered on signs, and Haig’s love of lists, it is a remarkable piece of theatre that wonderfully complements the literary piece, even if it doesn’t quite reach the point of becoming a substitute for the book itself.


Featured image: Sheffield Theatres and ETT / Johan Perrson Photography

Don't miss out on Reasons to Stay Alive at the Bristol Old Vic until Saturday 5th October 2019!