Mike Noble, who plays Younger Matt in the first adaptation of Reasons to Stay Alive, chats to us about the challenges of turning a well-loved book into a vibrant and important show, witty stage performances and what it’s really like to play a real life person.
How do you approach playing a real-life person, and what challenges come with this?
“I guess there is a bit of a responsibility that comes with playing a real life person, in that we’re going to have Matt Haig come and watch the show, and obviously I want him to think it’s good and that he sees himself in it.
“We created a timeline in the rehearsal room, starting with all of Matt’s information – when he was born, where he’s lived… and after that we were just filling in the answers by using his book. It is probably different to a lot of experiences actors have with playing a real person, because we’ve got Matt’s book which is like a manual of himself and his journey, and the play has been adapted really well by April [De Angelis].
“There’s also lots of content around Matt, and we [Phil Cheadle is playing Older Matt in the show] haven’t really chosen to try and mimic him because having two actors makes it so much more difficult. I don’t think it’s as important to do an impression of him as it is that we are telling this story, and telling it in an inventive way. We want to make it an important piece of theatre - it is an important book.”
How is the book affecting your work in the rehearsal room?
“In the first couple of weeks we’d read a scene and then we’d compare them to the book to see if there’s anything else, but even by reading it we’d get little bits of inspiration, things that couldn’t make the script but just give the scene a little more colour.
“The book is incredibly poetic and has all this hindsight, which – because I’m playing Younger Matt – he doesn’t have all these brilliant opinions of what he went through while he’s still going through it. But, it helps me in the playing of it, I guess, because Matt is incredibly descriptive in his writing, I can have his thoughts in my head as a little map of how to go about certain scenes.”
What do you hope audiences will take away from Reasons to Stay Alive?
“I hope for two things, really. One is that some people who may have lived with depression and anxiety, or just any feelings of low mood, feeling abnormal or not feeling like they fit in will come and see this play through Matt’s eyes and will take away some sort of hope and inspiration of living well with it, and feeling like they’re not alone.
“The other is that maybe people who – lucky for them – have never experienced any of these feelings will take away a bit more empathy and compassion for those who are going through it, and might just think: ‘I didn’t realise that’s how tough it was for people’.”
Why is Reasons to Stay Alive such an important piece of work to be bringing to life now?
“I think we genuinely are in the middle of a mental health crisis as a society. I think modern life is really not designed for humans, weirdly, and levels of depression and anxiety – although they’re being talked about a lot more – are rising. Figures are going up and the world is getting less hospitable for people who are feeling these things.
“For me, anything that can add to the conversation to make it a more talked about subject, or to make anyone feel less weird or that they can’t go on anymore can only be a good thing. That’s why it’s important.”
Catch Reasons to Stay Alive in the Studio theatre from Friday 13 – Saturday 28 September. Tickets from £20 (limited availability), are available through the Box Office and at sheffieldtheatres.co.uk.