The Shape of the Pain – Wilton’s Music Hall, London

Writer: Chris Thorpe 

Director: Rachel Bagshaw 

Reviewer: Scott Matthewman

We have all experienced pain. But along with the pain, we have evidence of a cause – a bruise or cut, say – and the knowledge that with healing, the pain will end.

Director Rachel Bagshaw’s relationship with pain is very different. She has Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, a chronic condition in which pain is a constant presence.

Bagshaw and writer Chris Thorpe collaborate with actor Hannah McPake to present what it is like to have CRPS. The Shape of the Pain starts with an audio description of the stage and its actor; every line of McPake’s monologue is projected onto the set’s curved metal backplane.

These are not mere bolt-ons to support those with access needs. The technique draws us in, a welcoming gesture to enable us to warm to McPake. Not that we need it too much: McPake’s charisma is enough on its own.

But the projections, often including splashes of colour, and the constantly shifting soundscape of Melanie Wilson’s score, encourage us to imagine what it is like to be in this woman’s head, to experience CRPS even though one of its difficulties is that it is so difficult to express to someone who doesn’t have the condition.

McPake tells a vignette of her character’s life, revolving around a new relationship that take her somewhat by surprise. In the early days, she is comforted by his acceptance of her condition, of his intuitive understanding of her needs: so much so that on an occasion when this near-telepathic intuition does not emerge, she feels both enraged and also comforted: this is a real relationship because it is not perfect, but because it is not perfect she finds it enraging.

The changes in the relationship are deftly handled by Thorpe’s script, McPake’s character experiencing emotional pain without apparent cause just as her condition means she feels chronic physical pain. There are three people in the relationship: her, him and the shape of the pain — and only one of them can leave.

And such emotional awareness is at the heart of Bagshaw, Thorpe and McPake’s success here. While CRPS is a condition that few of us will experience, The Shape of the Pain expresses the experience in terms we can all begin to understand.

Continues until March 23 2019 | Image: Contributed

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