Reasons To Stay Alive drama highlights mental health in a far from depressing way

Phil Cheadle in Reasons To Stay Alive. Photo by Johan Persson.
Phil Cheadle in Reasons To Stay Alive. Photo by Johan Persson.

The world premiere of a theatrical production of Matt Haig’s best-selling book Reasons To Stay Alive has opened at Sheffield’s Crucible Studio Theatre.

The subject is depression – an exploration of the author’s own experience.

Phil Cheadle and Mike Noble play the central character – an older Matt and a younger Matt. Their interaction gives the action a double focus: we witness the struggles of the younger Matt, but also the advice and support and wit of the older Matt – who acts as a kind of alter ego.

The play has many truthful things to say about anxiety and depression, but is anything but depressing itself.

The design is magnetic; a large skull-like form dominates the stage – it fragments, is moved around, reforms, is climbed on, has multiple functions. Everything is fluid, one scene melts into another, we move backwards and forwards in time.

Music and movement combine to suggest the emotional distortions caused by an extreme mental condition.

In the background are Matt’s mum and dad (Connie Walker and Chris Donnelly) doing their best, but bemused by their son’s behaviour.

Janet Etuk as Andrea, Matt’s understanding and occasionally frustrated partner, is outstanding – her support and sensitivity crucial to Matt’s survival.

At a time when mental health has a renewed public focus, Reasons to Stay Alive is an important event.

Co-produced by Sheffield Theatres and English Touring Theatre it’s adapted by April de Angelis, and directed by Jonathan Watkins, who was responsible for an innovative dance theatre version of Kes at the Crucible some time ago.

Reasons To Stay Alive is on in Sheffield until Saturday, September 28, and then tours to a number of venues, including ones in Manchester, York and Leeds. For further information go to www.ett.org.uk