Review: Reasons To Stay Alive by Matt Haig is a reason to visit Home

  • The adaptation of one man's struggle with depression

It’s a tough premise to sell.  A play based on a book of someone’s real battle with depression and thoughts of suicide.  Sorry, I did think of putting a warning up front but then thought it would be better to break it you now instead of gently later on. 

Reasons To Stay Alive, based on the book of the same name by Matt Haig, gets off to a harrowing start, no bones about it.  When we first meet Matt (Mike Noble) he’s partying hard in Ibiza, or looks like he’s trying to anyway, while harbouring serious thoughts of ending his own life.  But a particular voice of reason compels him not to.  That’s not really a spoiler otherwise this review would be over now. 

That voice of reason is his older self (Phil Cheadle), telling him that one day he’ll experience as much joy to match the pain. 

But by resolving to keep going Matt subsequently finds himself weighed down by harrowing fears and doubts about himself, what he has to offer in life and where he can go from there, while feeling adrift among his closest loved ones, with his parents (Chris Donnelly and Connie Walker) in particular unable to grasp what’s making him the way he is.  He feels powerless to even leave the house.  A walk to the shop feels like a feat of strength. 

Ten minutes in and I felt like I was being weighed down by something heavy as well.  It’s probably no wonder a couple of people left at that point.  Which is a shame because it became more compelling from then onwards. 

Matt’s biggest rock of support is his girlfriend, Andrea (Janet Etuk).  For the most part we feel like we know her from his point of view, but eventually we’re given a look at the effect Matt’s plight has on her and that she isn’t above trying to shake him out of it if she has to. 

But at the risk of making this sound like a back to back showing of Trainspotting and Requiem for a Dream after the funeral of a loved one it’s funny as well.  One musical number has the characters pointing out no one ever tells you to just get over cancer or Alzheimer’s. 

Things do start to look up when Matt begins to see where his fears and anxieties are getting him.  Or rather where they won’t get him, with a little nudging from Andrea and the voice of his older self.  In another song the supporting characters run through a list of famous people who have battled with depression in life, from Stephen King, quoted directly at one point, to Buzz Aldrin to Alastair Campbell in order to make a point. 

Bit by bit he begins to crawl out of the hole he’s huddled in, enticed by the people around him, occasionally close to slipping back but becoming ever more aware of what’s behind him if he does. 

I’ll admit by the end I felt like I’d been lifted up as well.  The performances were that powerful.  At 80 minutes it really did fly by, and wouldn’t life be better if depression went at the same rate?