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Review: Reasons to Stay Alive

A play about depression might not sound much fun, but there’s lots to enjoy in this theatrically inventive adaptation of the number one bestseller at Bristol Old Vic...

Mike Noble

Matt Haig’s first headlong encounter with anxiety and depression came when he was 24, partying on Ibiza.  Things got so bad he came within a hair’s breadth of throwing himself off a cliff –and on returning home even the idea of visiting the corner shop left him paralysed with terror.  His book – part memoir, part creative self-help manual – of a young man’s painful journey from dark into light is not an obvious choice for a stage play.  But choreographer Jonathan Watkins (Kes) – who directs this co-production by Sheffield Theatres and English Touring Theatre now on the Bristol Old Vic – skilfully realises its theatrical potential.

The Company

The dramatic stage design stylistically depicts the fractured inside of a gigantic brain, which morphs from Ibiza nightclub to vertiginous cliff top in the first few minutes.  And the expressive choreography and visceral sound track convey Matt’s internal anguish to a heartbeat.

April de Angelis’s adaptation puts centre stage the dramatic device of the older, wiser Matt (Phil Cheadle) advising his younger self (a compelling performance by Mike Noble – Curious Dog in the Nighttime).  Meanwhile, the story shifts back and forth in time against the scaffold of Matt’s hard-won and wry observations and tips on surviving depression in a society that often just doesn’t get it.

Phil Cheadle, Janet Etuk and Mike Noble

As a taster, we have ‘Crap things people say to depressives they don’t say in other life-threatening situations (no one says ‘chin up’ if you have a heart attack)’.  His partner, Andrea, sympathetically played by Janet Etuk, is central to his recovery, but even she struggles at times.  My favorite scene is when Matt takes up running to get better and chants all the names of famous depressives – it’s a surprisingly long list.

Ultimately, this is a heart-on-its-sleeve production that artfully conveys the book’s main message that there is hope even when depression tries to steal it away – in a triumph of the human spirit that will connect with all of us, not just those affected directly and indirectly by depression.

 

Reasons to Stay Alive is on at the Bristol Old Vic until Sat 5 Oct.

 

Bristol Old Vic, King Street, Bristol BS1 4ED. Box office 0117 9877877. bristololdvic.org.uk

 

Words: Ann Dix. Photos Johan Persson.

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