Sheffield stage return for Barnsley director Jonathan Watkins in theatre adaptation of Reasons to Stay Alive

A Barnsley-born theatre director is returning to the Crucible in Sheffield to bring to life his idea of staging an adaptation of a real-life story of one man’s experience of depression.

Monday, 16th September 2019, 1:29 pm
Director Jonathan Watkins in rehearsals for Reasons to Stay Alive. Photo by Johan Persson
Director Jonathan Watkins in rehearsals for Reasons to Stay Alive. Photo by Johan Persson

Jonathan Watkins, who created a dance theatre version of Barry Hines’ story Kes at the Crucible in 2014, has this time turned to a best-selling 2015 book by Matt Haig, called Reasons To Stay Alive.

The world premiere of the show takes place on September 13 to 28 at the Crucible Studio.

Matt based the book on his journey out of the crisis that left him with serious depression at the age of 24, moving towards a life filled with more hope as he learned how to cope and move on.

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Jonathan, a trained classical ballet dancer who also works as a choreographer and movement director, was so inspired by reading the book that he knew he had to create a stage version .

“I’m going to stay as authentic as possible to the things that represent Matt Haig’s experiences with mental health difficulties as possible,” said Jonathan during rehearsals for the show.

“We remain very faithful to the themes of the book and how he explains it in different ways, sometimes through witticisms and comedy, and sometimes through seeing his actual experiences of returning to these events. We’ve tried to incorporate all of those things.”

Jonathan, who is from Worsbrough, said he hopes that audiences will feel empathy towards people going through the same types of difficulties.

The production uses a combination of movement, music and words. Mike Noble appears as the young Matt and Phil Cheadle plays an older version, interacting with his younger self and commenting on events from his past.

Jonathan added: “We’re describing this world that Matt Haig has so brilliantly put into his book. It not only gives a window on to that experience, it gives pragmatic advice.

“There’s lots of these things he’s noticed, using humour to conjure up things that people would say to someone experiencing depression that they would not say to someone with cancer or another illness.”

He explained why he decided to bring the book to the stage: “Like a lot of people I read the book. It was a best-seller in 2015 and everyone was reading it.

“One of the things that jumped out at me was the rhythm of the book. It was when I was trying to figure out the kind of theatre I wanted to make and what stories I could tell without words and what stories I could tell with words.”

He sees theatre, dance and movement as different tools to use to tell a story.

Jonathan came back to the book two years ago and persuaded Matt Haig of his vision for a stage adaptation. He worked with April De Angelis on the script.

He said: “It’s very much his (Matt’s) individual story and I wanted to remain faithful to his words.”

Jonathan said that there has also been a lot of collaboration with the actors : “They are artists and they are forgoing any sort of ego to serve this piece.”

He’s also keen that it connects with a wide audience: “What we’re doing is carrying on a conversation on this topic that is also worthwhile, that can entertain but can also shed light on these dark corners of humanity and things we don’t completely understand.”