Just as there are ‘unfilmable’ novels, it’s difficult to imagine how Matt Haig’s Reasons to Stay Alive could be adapted for the stage. Haig’s 2015’s memoir about his depression has become a publishing phenomenon, but it’s a curious book: part self-help manual, part autobiography.
April De Angelis and Jonathan Watkins have stuck closely to the source material for this adaptation from Sheffield Theatres and English Touring Theatre, using the framing device of Older Matt talking Younger Matt through his life. It makes for an affecting watch: powerful, poignant and slightly twee. Simon Daw’s set dominates the intimate Studio space – a huge, detachable brain on mobile scaffolding that the cast climbs over and around.
Mike Noble portrays Young Matt’s dazed, disorientated depression well, and there’s some sweet chemistry with Janet Etuk who plays Haig’s wife Andrea. For a play about mental illness, there are some surprisingly funny scenes: a bad case of imposter syndrome at a publishing event and the appearance of a face-licking demon while watching Swan Lake.
There are some flaws though. The already short 70-minute running time seems to be stretched out by a few too many choreographed dance scenes, while the message that medication doesn’t work and great art and finding love are all it takes to beat depression will be seen by some as simplistic – although it’s made clear in the script that this is just one very personal story.
Generally, this is an adaptation that handles a tricky subject with skill and sensitivity and, as it tours round the country, is likely to connect with audiences in the same way that Haig’s book has done.