The pain of living with pain

A moving attempt to communicate what it's like to live with pain. Picture: Contributed
A moving attempt to communicate what it's like to live with pain. Picture: Contributed
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The Shape of the Pain

Summerhall (Venue 26)


Creating theatre out of neurological states is not easy. Even the mighty Peter Brook created an experience that was more cerebral than impassioned when he adapted The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat, the Oliver Sacks study of brain disorders. However intellectually interesting the internal workings of the mind may be, it’s hard to give them external dramatic form.

Director Rachel Bagshaw and writer Chris Thorpe have two solutions to this conundrum. The Shape of the Pain is an attempt to communicate what it’s like to live with complex regional pain syndrome, a condition created by a malfunctioning central nervous system. If, like the director herself, you are affected by CRPS, you will have the sensation of pain in varying degrees of intensity – from harsh to unbearable – without apparent cause. The condition is poorly understood, but somehow the brain misinterprets the body’s signals, leading to a prolonged period of discomfort.

Their first way round the problem is to devise a story that illustrates how someone may be affected by the condition. Hannah McPake, performing with a steady, compelling control in this China Plate production, plays a young woman who is so governed by the experience of excruciating pain that, even when she hooks up with a boyfriend who is sympathetic and empathetic, cannot help herself from offloading her agony on him. The narrative gives an everyday human face to an extraordinary mental state.

Secondly, in Bagshaw’s production, Melanie Wilson’s ever-present score uses background noise to create the sensation of a persistent neurological sensation that you just can’t shake off. It comes and goes in volume, but it’s never far away. Coupled with the visual intensity of Joshua Pharo’s lighting and projections on Madeline Girling’s industrial set, it gives us some insight into this strange, all-consuming condition.

mark fisher

Until 26 August. Today 7:30pm.