Reasons to Stay Alive review – hope beats the black dog

Crucible, Sheffield
Matt Haig converses with his younger self in this engaging take on his memoir about depression

The novelist Matt Haig wrote his award-wining, bestselling 2015 memoir about depression and anxiety because, as he explains in the programme, he wanted “to sit down with an imagined reader – maybe my younger self – and try and give that hopeless person the hope they need”. Imagined conversations between Haig and his younger self became integral to the book and form the core of this well-intentioned new production from Sheffield Theatres and English Touring Theatre.

Simon Daw’s versatile set initially suggests a sort of Salvador Dalí image of a disintegrating brain – a fragmented, oval shape supported on struts. In the opening scenes, this becomes the cliff that the 24-year-old Younger Matt (Mike Noble, pictured, with Dilek Rose), suffering his first bout of depression and anxiety, scales with the intention of ending his life. He is interrupted by Older Matt (Phil Cheadle), reassuring him that “you will one day experience joy that matches this pain” and persuading him to find reasons to live. Younger Matt finds these reasons in the people in his life, Mum (Connie Walker), Dad (Chris Donnelly) and girlfriend Andrea (Janet Etuk), who subsequently support him through his experiences.

“Imagined for the stage” and directed by choreographer Jonathan Watkins, with text by April De Angelis, naturalist-style dialogues are interspersed with episodes of movement to music (Alex Baranowski, composer). If this format feels dramatically two-dimensional, the actors are engaging and Haig’s encouragements to hope are life-affirming.

• At the Crucible, Sheffield, until 28 September, and then touring

Contributor

Clare Brennan

The GuardianTramp

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