Before sitting down to watch this show, I did not know an awful lot about epilepsy. I did not know the precautionary sacrifices, the emotional effects, or the fact that 1 in 100 people suffer from this disorder. However, Tom Ryalls’ personal story with Can You See Into A Black Hole? brings to light the great trauma and innocent hope that a young boy must face when growing up with epilepsy. With a brilliantly interactive performance from Dan Fitzsimons (Thomas), we are transported through this young boy’s timeline, of what he remembers fondly, what he records, and the insides of his mind where he meets his Black Hole.
The play starts with a tale of family. Fitzsimons plants himself tall on several podiums around the stage and asks us to imagine different moments in time where his ancestors have defeated the impossible. This reflection of strong family connections bleeds into the belly of this piece. As Fitzsimons explains, he wanted to fill in the gaps of his life, of the epileptic episodes he blacked out in, and the conversations that were never said. So, he takes us through his flashbacks, to his younger self, both in stories and through real-life recordings of Ryall’s parents’ experience. Their strong Doncaster tones build an unbreakable recognition of determination and of home for the piece. The parents’ utter transparency delivered a chilling reality of the hardships that one will go through for their children, and the ripple of hidden anxieties that is created when one of the family is suffering.
In trying to explain what the mental gaps of epilepsy feel like, Fitzsimons’ avid astronaut enthusiast character relates it to that of a Black Hole. Ryalls recreates this entity in the form of several black balloons, collected in a fine net and carefully hung on one end of the stage. This ominous black bubble swayed, sometimes aggressively, with the British wind behind it which only enhanced its menacing presence both on stage and within Thomas’ head. He continues to threaten the black hole with every seizure he has, with moments in his life either building his courage or dampening his hopes that this will end. It is not until we understand the subtle hints of breaks within his parents’ relationship that Thomas and the Black Hole become one. The cause of destruction becomes shared, and the weight of family significance becomes fractured.
Despite this, the glimpses of joy and childish cheekiness that runs through Fitzsimons’ performance allow us to bathe in the nostalgia of childhood. The excitement for Christmas day, playing cards late at night with your friends and building great multicolour rocket ships. Thomas’ same rocket stands face to face with the swaying Black Hole, as almost a metaphorical image of childish wonder facing the menacing unknown. These qualities radiate from Ryalls’ piece, as through the growth of his younger self we see the light at the end of the tunnel.
In the final moments of the play, we hear the chilling recording of one of Ryalls’ seizures. The calming words of his mother and father can also be heard, acting as a comfort blanket of support. We realise how reflecting on these moments of distress can sometimes build our understanding and relationships for the future. A clear reminder of what’s truly important through this family’s struggles.
Can You See into a Black Hole? is playing at Iris Theatre until 3 July 2021. For more information and tickets, see: Iris Theatre – Can You See Into a Black Hole