“Can You See Into A Black Hole” is the first of a three-part series by Tom Ryalls that offers a glimpse into childhood epilepsy and youth hospitalizations told through their own personal story. Through a heart-warming personal account of their adolescent years and a combination of documentary interviews, electronic music and the only surviving film of one of their seizures, we witness the complex consequences and conditions of living with an invisible disease that could strike at any time, without warning.
Presented at an outdoor setting under the Iris Theatre’s Summer Festival at the St. Paul’s Church in Covent Garden, the show is directed by Deirdre McLaughlin and performed by Dan Fitzsimons, accompanied by Christian Czornyj’ sound design. The text by Ryalls is the driving force of the show, relying on a highly approachable and engaging tone to talk about a difficult subject. As we meet the character of “Tom” aged 8 through 22, we witness not only their struggles and hardships but also their changing aspirations – from the less ambitious dream of going into space to the more ambitious one of doing more than just surviving. Interspersed with Tom’s voice are interview recordings of their parents which are presented verbatim. Through their perspective of coming to terms with the lifestyle changes prompted by Tom’s epilepsy and its impact on their personal relationship, the audience is able to glean into the incredibly complex journey of this family and their collective fight against an invisible disease. The inclusion of the parent’s individual voices also throws a light on the larger dialogue around those engaged in informal care for loved ones.
The metaphor of a black hole, which is used to actualize the illness in the narrative beyond its medical presence, allows the audience to visualize its living, breathing and increasingly sinister presence in Tom’s life. Ryalls’ use of checklists as a storytelling structure is particularly effective, giving us an insight into the character who wishes to take more control of the chaos in their head but often has to resign themselves to how the situation plays out. Fitzsimons succeeds in doing this effectively, not only delivering a heart-warming performance that addresses the audience directly, but also bringing out the internal turmoil of the character. Performing outdoors in the busy Convent Garden is not an easy job and Fitzsimon handles the occasional disturbances without missing a beat. The set design is minimal, consisting of a round space with small wooden platforms arranged throughout and a group of dark-coloured balloons tied together to represent the black hole. In this context, the use of traverse seating for the audience is an interesting choice, helping us imagine two sides of a boxing ring with our young protagonist in one corner and the sinister illness in the other. The sound design also plays on this through the use of left-right stereo design, using subtle sounds to switch between different sections of the story and draw our attention towards specific areas of the stage. However, the music used to underscore the parent’s testimonies takes away from the realness of their words and circumstances. McLaughlin’s direction allows Fitzsimons to open up the text to the audience and build a connection with both them and the physical space.
To summarize, Can You Look Into A Black Hole is a gripping story about living with an invisible disease and its profound impact on a family’s life. Through its humorous and relatable observations on mortality and survival, it reminds you to hold on to hope even when things seem bleak.
You can watch Can You See Into a Black Hole at the Iris Summer Festival in St. Paul’s Church WC2E 9ED till 3rd July. Learn more and book your tickets at https://iristheatre.com/event/can-you-see-into-a-black-hole/
Reviewer: Gaurav Singh Nijjer
Reviewed: 29th June 2021
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★