Theatre, as with all art, is about making us feel something. But how can it make us feel pain? Actual pain?

The Shape Of The Pain aims to depict the experience of living with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS), a condition where an individual experiences chronic pain. Written by Chris Thorpe, directed by Rachel Bagshaw and performed by Hannah McPake, it’s grounded in Bagshaw’s own experience, all backed up by research from an array of medical collaborators.

But back to that original question. Here, pain is illustrated visually and sonically. There’s an original score by Melanie Wilson that merges music and sound design: from a gentle thrum, to a soft rumble, to a roar. It’s sometimes melodic, sometimes abstract, sometimes loud and shrieking, sometimes not even there at all. It is pain in its many guises, an almost perpetual noise that threatens to overpower McPake’s words.

The Shape Of The Pain Battersea Arts Centre

Image courtesy of The Other Richard

This constancy is similarly reflected in Joshua Pharo’s video and lighting design. Words and colours are projected onto the metallic backdrop as a cascade of light, disorientating and confusing. It showers McPake with dynamic intensity, occasionally even masking her face. Having every line of the script projected does ensure all performances are captioned (as well as being audio described) so as to be accessible to all audience members, but the constant stream of words distracts from McPake’s performance and gives her a voice when, perhaps, the pain is too overwhelming for words.

The Shape Of The Pain Battersea Arts Centre

Image courtesy of The Other Richard

More than sound and visuals, however, the greatest pain of all is emotional pain. That comes from McPake in her delivery of what is, ultimately, a heartbreaking love story of a woman struggling to maintain a relationship in the midst of a chronic condition. Thorpe’s beautifully written script poetically captures the rise and fall of such a journey that is universal in its pain. Yet for the fictional protagonist, The Shape Of The Pain is an almost out of body experience that colours every moment of her waking life, inexplicably pulling two souls apart. McPake is a gripping storyteller, delivering the words with warmth and clarity in a powerful performance.

Scientific research ensures that The Shape Of The Pain is an authentic, thought provoking experience. But only theatre could make us feel so potently.

 

 

★★★★☆

The Shape Of The Pain runs at Battersea Arts Centre until 10 March 2018. For further information, please visit the venue website.