The Shape of the Pain

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The Shape of the Pain by Rachel Bagshaw and Chris Thorpe – Summerhall, Edinburgh

A play about a sufferer from Complex Regional Pain Syndrome sounds tough to watch, and probably of limited relevance to those fortunate enough not to be afflicted. The fact it is neither is a tribute to the exceptionally high quality of the writing and performance in Rachel Bagshaw and Chris Thorpe’s play. The narrative is meticulously introduced by the sole performer, Hannah McPake, as an account of someone else’s experience. Chronic pain can be triggered by a minor injury which, for reasons doctors cannot entirely explain, results in permanent, debilitating, possibly lifelong pain. It is essentially an inability to shut off sensation. The play is an exercise in communicating an experience that is impossible to communicate.

With projected text and sound effects used to great effect, McPake explains the nature of pain in terms that are literally hallucinogenic, as she leaves her body in a bubble to preserve a basic version of herself as the rest is washed away. However, the play is as much about her attempts to negotiate a relationship in the shadowed of her condition. The narrator has the choice of feeling either everything or nothing, and despite everything the former remains just about preferable. The Shape of the Pain becomes a discussion of how far people can understand one another, and the extent to which love is just two people trying to make something work. It is a profound, touching and real examination of the basics of human experience, and one of the most powerful shows on the Fringe.

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