Reviewed by Jenny Bray
This is an adaptation of a book by Matt Haig about his struggle with severe depression, anxiety and panic attacks from when he turned 24. The book is based on his true account, his feelings and his recovery. The book was a Sunday Times number one bestseller that stayed in the top ten for 49 weeks and has been published in 29 different countries!
It is a short play at 1 hour and 15, but that is about the right amount of time for the content, which isn’t all musicals and fun and laughter but is an educational look at an individual clearly suffering and struggling but with support around him in the form of his girlfriend and parents.
The play was on in the Studio at the Lyceum, which is a more intimate setting than a grand theatre and worked well for the very simple staging of parts of the brain that moved around for different situations. There wasn’t a show on in the main Crucible theatre, nor was there an interval with this particular show, so it was the cafe that was open for refreshments beforehand. This had a selection of alcoholic drinks, soft drinks, hot drinks and snacks. The staff were all very friendly and welcoming. The Sheffield Theatres have an agreement with the local Q parks car park at Charles Street for the first hour of parking free. However, I have recently discovered on street parking at just £2 after 4.30pm just a little further out, by the Gatecrasher apartments.
The whole show is performed by just 6 actors, some of whom play multiple parts. Mike Noble plays a young Matt very convincingly as you can feel the angst and despair oozing from him during the production. He looks suitably lost and confused at times, vacant at others and petrified when at his worst, all in the correct context of the situation at that time. Janet Etuk plays his very supportive girlfriend, Andrea well. She is able to provide thoughts from the other side of the situations and shows the support she was able to give. Phil Cheadle, who plays the older Matt is the voice of reason for younger Matt, saving him at times by talking him round through his worst bouts.
The start of his depression seemed to be when he spent 3 days struggling to get out of bed when still in Ibiza with his girlfriend Andrea. He is then tempted to attempt suicide so she forces him to see a doctor.
Once back home, staying with his parents, he reflects on other times depression may have affected him when he was younger. Soon after they all manage to venture out but he has a very surreal experience with a demon, which brought some humour to the show.
The show also details some of the panic attacks he experienced and how he felt at these times, as well as how he managed to recover.
Throughout the show there are sections such as ‘things that have happened to me that have generated more sympathy than depression’, which include breaking his toe and living in Hull in January. There are also tips like, ‘never say pull yourself together’ to someone with depression. A whole host of celebrities who have suffered from depression are listed when the cast are running with Matt. I wasn’t even aware that half the people mentioned had suffered from depression at some point, so that was interesting to hear.
I hadn’t read the book prior to seeing the show but would assume from the content that the director, Jonathan Watkins and adaptor April De Angelis have sympathetically adapted the book to be suitable for theatre. It worked as a production, being very grounded yet not too dismal or dismissive considering the topic. Jonathan Watkins was previously responsible for Kes in the Crucible.
The shows in Sheffield are the world premiere of the first leg of the tour of this show, which is in Sheffield until Saturday 28th September and then touring across the UK. I love that Sheffield is able to host shows like this and imagine it to be special to Matt that his hometown was able to host the premiere.
This is an insightful look at an individual’s struggle with severe depression coupled with anxiety and panic attacks. It is quite dark but with some humour and educational facts thrown in. I would think that it could be really useful for supporters of those with depression to see in order to gain a better understanding of how to best support someone and/or a better explanation of how the person may be feeling at some points.
Tickets cost from £24 (booking fees may apply).
Reasons to Stay Alive is at the Crucible Studio in Sheffield from 13-28 September 2019, for more information or to book tickets visit www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk or call the box office on 0114 249 6000.
Crucible Theatre, 55 Norfolk Street, Sheffield, S1 1DA | 0114 249 6000
Following performances at Sheffield Theatres, the production tours to Bristol Old Vic, Lawrence Batley Theatre, Northern Stage, HOME Manchester, York Theatre Royal and Leeds Playhouse until 16 November. For further information, please see ett.org.uk.