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26 May 2017

Game of Thrones star tackles epilepsy

Game of Thrones star Ellie Kendrick will be back on our screens this summer as Meera Reed in the penultimate season of the hit tv series. But first she takes on a very different role as a young mum with epilepsy in a new BBC Radio 4 drama, Slipping through Time (1 June 2.15pm). Here Ellie explains how the two roles have more in common than might at first seem obvious.

Game of Thrones star Ellie Kendrick has a brown, wavy bob. She is looking pensive.

Game of Thrones star, Ellie Kendrick is very experienced at looking after people with seizures.

Her character, Meera Reed takes care of her brother JoJen when he has seizure-like symptoms in early seasons of the hit HBO series. And in more recent seasons, she takes care of disabled young visionary Bran when he has 'blank outs' that mimic absence seizures during prophetic visions.

But Ellie's latest role has given her a very different perspective of what it is like to have seizures. Ellie is playing the lead role of Izzy, a young mum with epilepsy, in BBC Radio 4's new drama, Slipping Through Time, which will be broadcast on 1 June at 2.15pm.

Looking after someone with epilepsy

'In Game of Thrones the character I play is very much the one who is looking on, worrying as she waits for her brother or Bran to come out of their seizures. Although they are still physically there, she doesn't know where they are or when they will come back to her.

'In Slipping Through Time my character Izzy see things from a very different perspective. It is her partner who is waiting, worrying, while she is the one having a seizure, and it has certainly taught me a lot about seizures from both sides.'

Ellie stresses that the seizures in Game of Thrones are not epileptic seizures. 'They are very much mystical, romanticised seizures that happen as JoJen and Bran experience 'greensight' visions of the future. Game of Thrones is a fairytale and the characters are all seeing, all powerful.

Living with seizures

'In Slipping Through Time,  the seizures are very different. The playwright, Louise Monaghan, has epilepsy herself and she completely demystifies the condition. She gives incredible insight into the everyday navigation of living with seizures , and just how stressful and frustrating it can be. It is a very real experience.'

Slipping Through Time  follows the story of Izzy, a young mum who had epilepsy as a teenager and then has a recurrence of her seizures after having her first baby.

Izzy struggles with the diagnosis of epilepsy but finding her teenage diaries helps her to come to terms with the condition.

Sliding scale of seizures

Ellie continues: 'Before doing the play, I knew very little about epilepsy. I didn't realise there was a sliding scale of seizures from the convulsive seizures we all associate with epilepsy, through to the less recognised absence seizures.

'I also had no idea just how bewildering it can be to have epilepsy. As a teenager Izzy was having to deal with the embarrassment of these terrifying seizures which continually intruded on her life, always ruining things at the worst possible moment. The fear of a seizure made her very anxious as she tried to keep her epilepsy a secret for as long as possible.

'But then as a new mum, Izzy faces even more challenges. She fears that her seizures might mean she will be seen as a bad mum. She daren't tell anyone about them for fear that her baby will be taken away.

'As it is, Izzy is a fantastic mum and she finds that she is surrounded by a very supportive family.'

Not defined by epilepsy

Ellie describes  playing the role of Izzy as an amazing experience.

'Louise Monaghan makes Izzy a very real and complex human being with a really relatable story.  Although the play is structured around her epilepsy, she is by no means defined by it.

'The gift of an actor is to be able to live someone' else's life for a while and I really wanted to get this part right. When you are dealing with real issues that affect people's daily lives, issues that are under-represented, it is very important for me to feel I have done a good job.

'I really hope the play will help make epilepsy much more understandable. I hope it will help to make people with epilepsy feel comfortable and that they will relate to the story.'

Slipping Through Time will be broadcast on BBC Radio 4 at 2.15pm on 1 June 2017. Ellie is also appearing in the remake of Whisky Galore!  which opened on 15 May 2017 and The Levelling, in selected cinemas now. Game of Thrones  returns on 17 July on Sky Atlantic and NOWTV.

Read more

Playwright Louise Monaghan talks about her play Slipping through Time. You can both watch her video and read her interview.