Leeds Playhouse – until 16 November 2019
Reviewed By Dawn Smallwood
English Touring Theatre in partnership with Sheffield Theatres brings Matt Haig’s Reasons to Stay Alive to the Leeds Playhouse. Based on April De Angeli’s adaptation and directed by Jonathan Watkins, Reasons to Stay Alive is a down to earth bestselling biography about Haig’s journey experiencing severe depression and the impact it has brought.
The play explores the premise of loving and living life to the full despite Matt’s depressive setbacks and self doubts, the latter resulting from past beliefs. With Simon Daw’s innovative staging as the backdrop, the Older Matt (Phil Cheadle) narrates the journey from when he was younger (being played by Mike Noble) during his twenties when he was at his lowest ebb to recognising the value of living. Matt certainly achieves what he initially thought impossible and the shared celebrations are accompanied with movement, music and sounds under the creative arrangement of Jessica Hung Yun, Alex Baranowski and Nick Greenhill.
This short play, approximately, 1 hour 20 minutes, is packed with content with key messages how personal and collective support can help those in need who are experiencing depression and mental health issues. The play with the aid of key texts as props looks at the importance of listening and more crucially choosing the words and the timing during discussions which consequentially may hurt more than help. The key message of the play is to open up about mental health whether positive or negative and aiming to eliminate the stigma which is still sadly associated with it especially among men.
The narrator, the Older Matt, mentors his younger self with everyday language which everyone can relate to and understand. The whole cast has put on an excellent portrayals particularly Janet Etuk (Andrea), Chris Donnelly (Dad) and Connie Walker (Mum) and Dilek Rose (multiple roles) who all play as Matt’s support network. More so the portrayals of the Older Matt and the younger Matt by Cheadle and Noble respectively are demonstratively outstanding and have successfully battled through the lows and celebrated the highs.
Everybody’s mental health is unique and different to every individual and emphasis is about the importance of sharing experiences and how support given must be tailored made to each individual’s needs. Reasons to Stay Alive is a heart warming and delightful play, well directed, and well performed. There are reasons to celebrate life and be supported and this production coincides with the Northern Man Festival taking place on the 16th November at the Playhouse and thus more the reason to watch this production.