The Shape of the Pain
Summerhall, Edinburgh Fringe
How do you communicate the experience of chronic pain that has no apparent cause? Words are not enough but, in The Shape of the Pain, writers Rachel Bagshaw and Chris Thorpe attempt to do this through not just description, simile and metaphor but a mix of sound, light and colour.
The one-woman show is based on Rachel’s own experience of living with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) which is a poorly understood condition where someone experiences persistent severe pain that may have no apparent direct cause. She wittily highlights the unhelpful comments of doctors and other people who think CRPS can be easily managed like normal pain and tries to explain her complex feelings about her condition by conjuring up abstract images such as the pain shooting out of her like a football that contains cushions.
The play is also a love story, telling us about Rachel’s attempt at a relationship with a man who instinctively knows how to talk to her about her condition – and when not to talk about it. But ultimately, like the cushion-filled football, it emerges that it is probably impossible to ever properly communicate an experience that is so subjective and nebulous.
However, directed by Rachel herself, The Shape of the Pain’s strength is its use of flickering lights, disorienting video effects, buzzing and throbbing sounds and a general assault on the senses to try to convey Rachel’s experiences where words are inadequate. Colours and shapes are projected onto a backdrop of eight finely-meshed panels arranged in a horseshoe formation, designed by Madeleine Girling – the canvas for an immersive experience with video and lighting by Joshua Pharo and sound composed by Melanie Wilson.
Most of all, the show’s power is down to an incredible performance by Hannah McPake as Rachel whose delivery ranges from calm and droll to intensely expressive and moving. We may come away with only a tenuous sense of the shape of Rachel’s pain but we have an unforgettable sense of the debilitating impact it has on her life.
Running to August 26, 2017