Caitlin Diskin reviews performance and post-show discussion of a play about growing up with epilepsy
During the post-show discussion of Making for the Light, writer and director Alex Elliott said, “We see this piece as the beginning of a conversation, a stepping stone,”. The intimate setting of Newcastle’s Live Theatre, it must have been a nerve-wracking experience for Elliott as the play, co-written with Carol Clewlow, was subjected to its first ever showing. Yet there was little to worry about as the play, an exploration of life with epilepsy, triumphed in its efforts to portray the highs and lows of the condition.
Its opening, in which Van Gogh’s Starry Night painting was used as an extended metaphor for an epileptic fit, was one of the most incredible examples of playwriting I’ve ever witnessed
As someone who knew very little about epilepsy, Making for the Light proved an illuminating experience. A collaboration between Operating Theatre, Newcastle University, and the CANDO project, the play succeeded as an understated yet poignant performance. Rachel Gay and Gary Kitching, its two cast members, shone in their role of narrators. Their characters framed the performance, functioning as omniscient in the life of the unseen protagonist, Ellen. The script followed Ellen’s life from a sixteen-year-old into her twenties, intensely exploring epilepsy’s affects on this formative time of life.
Making for the Light’s true success was the minimalist nature of the performance
Making for the Light’s true success was the minimalist nature of the performance. There was no onstage action; instead, Gay and Kitching stood mostly static, narrating Ellen’s life via the highly effective poetic prose of the script. Its opening, in which Van Gogh’s Starry Night painting was used as an extended metaphor for an epileptic fit, was one of the most incredible examples of playwriting I’ve ever witnessed. By coupling this with the fact that the painting was broadcast via a screen to the audience, Making for the Light explored the fact that many artists with epilepsy have used the condition in their work. It risked tipping into pretentiousness by using quotes of famous artists and writers, yet ultimately avoided this as Elliot noted that all artists mentioned actually had epilepsy and used the condition as a creative force.
The post-show discussion was equally as enlightening. The panel, comprised of Elliott, epilepsy consultant Dr Rhys Thomas, neural interfaces professor and investigator on CANDO Professor Andy Jackson, and Vicky McPhee, a volunteer with epilepsy, discussed everything from living with the condition to medical research on it. Discussing how the play was conceived, it was refreshing to hear Elliott note that he wants to use it to bring epilepsy into conversation. It’s a condition we see as ‘over there’, he stated, “but it isn’t, it’s here, it’s among all of us.” With this idea in mind, it will be interesting to see how the play develops before its next showing.