At the age of 24, Matt Haig is plunged into the depths of depression, plagued by suicidal thoughts and debilitating anxiety. Living in Ibiza, he is pinned to the bed by a sadness that he explains doesn’t come from his eyes but from deep inside. With his partner Andrea, Haig returns to the UK to focus on recovery. He encounters misunderstanding, misinformation, toxic masculinity, medication and eventually, finally a breath of fresh air.
If this sounds familiar, it’s because Haig recalled it all in his best-selling memoir Reasons to Stay Alive. Director Jonathan Watkins and writer April De Angelis have reimagined the book for the stage, giving Haig’s despair, fight and survival a physicality. There are two Matts; younger Matt (Mike Noble) in the grips of the illness and older, wiser Matt (Phil Cheadle) who has the benefit of health and hindsight. Haig says in the programme: “I didn’t understand how powerful time is. How it changes you.” For the 70-minute performance, time is condensed as Matt-the-elder guides suffering Matt towards his future.
The performance opens with older Matt introducing us to the scene of his affliction. He tells us: “I was going to die or go mad.” The serenity of the intro is smashed by the blaring interruption of club music, lights flash and arms flail. It is a hysterical moment that could plummet from euphoria to despair in a second. We see Matt’s inhibited dancing slow to gasping, grasping folds as he clings to the back of the set, eyes wide in terror. As Matt’s body twists in pain, we understand that the illness is as all-encompassing as the dancing had been moments before.