Thursday, 31 October 2019

THEATRE REVIEW: Reasons To Stay Alive - HOME. Manchester.

This evening HOME Theatre, Manchester, played host to Matt Haig’s 2015 memoir ‘Reasons To Stay Alive'. The performance explored the themes of depression, anxiety and time; specifically focusing on the torment of time and the manipulation of each disorder as it consumes a person. Throughout the performance I was taken through waves of sound, motion and memory. Each scene had been carefully thought out, the music chosen to intertwine with the slowed movements of the character whilst also juxtaposing the fast pace of the action on stage.

Mike Noble played the main protagonist ‘Matt’, at first I found the character hard to warm to, I found his portrayal rough yet heightened and in comparison to the other characters I struggled to care for him. However, by the end of the play I had found my opinion had changed quite significantly towards the character. As younger Matt’s complexities developed I found myself empathising with his worries. I silently defended him when everything became overwhelming and I found myself celebrating his triumphs when he was able to stay home or buy marmite. As an audience member I was able to see each complex layer to younger Matt’s character and this was wonderfully portrayed by Noble, my favourite scene from Noble’s performance was Haigh’s panic attack, the use of space on stage and the slow motion of his actions gripped me by my chest and kept my attention throughout.

Older ‘Matt’, Phil Cheadle, had a place in my heart from the start of the performance. I found his older persona to be quite calming, he had a subconscious-like feel to his performance, always watching and advising younger Matt with the knowledge and wisdom he’d acquired. As the performance continued I enjoyed Cheadle’s composure and resilience which allowed for the shocking twist nearer the end of the play. My heart felt like it had been ripped out when Older Matt’s character was metaphorically pinned to the brain-like background, emotions I hadn’t realised I felt for the character were beautifully controlled by Cheadle’s performance.

Alongside Noble, Janet Etuk played the loving and supportive spouse, Andrea, a supporting and wonderful character who showed the importance of never giving up on your partner whilst also showing them the firmness and love they need when battling a disorder like depression. Etuk’s soft touch and whitty remarks reminded the audience of the compassion needed when combating each problem face on. Connie Walker also showed the audience the compassion and love needed but from a mothers perspective. By far my favourite actor on stage, Walker’s diverse role-playing allowed each of her characters to shine on stage whilst supporting, criticising and at times tormenting the protagonist throughout.

Hand in hand, Chris Donnelly played the caring second half of this parenting cohort. His confused and anxious mannerisms allowed each moment the audience saw him, on stage as Matt’s father, to represent the battle and struggle that a parent might feel when faced with a child with depression. Finally making up this company of six, Dilek Rose wonderfully portrayed each character with humour and ease, filling in the gaps of Matt’s life she was able to add depth to each of her characters whilst only inhabiting them for mere moments on stage. The Demon being a favourite character of mine, representing the scarily beautiful fragmentations of our mind.

Special mention must go to lighting designer Jessica Hung Han Yun, each part of the performance was beautifully lit to juxtapose or complement each lighting stage. The shadowing from the books on stage and yellow tones showed the intricacies of the set and the metaphor that is the brain.

All in all, Jonathan Watkins did a fantastic job at representing Matt Haig’s Memoire onstage, his abstract movements contrasted the slow pressures of Haig's panicked state whilst also adding humour and '90’s pop references throughout. Very good performance from all involved.

Reviewer - Caroline Bleakley
on - 30/10/19

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