The Shape Of The Pain, Battersea Arts Centre – Review


Life is pain. Get used to it.
The Long Kiss Goodnight

Theatre is about the experiences of people and one tends to learn more, the greater the differences are between the characters and oneself. In The Shape Of The Pain – which is written by Chris Thorpe, and conceived and directed by Rachel Bagshaw – the experience of living with complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) is explored. Using Hannah McPake as her ‘simulacrum’, Bagshaw tries to convey through colours, sounds and words, something that doesn’t have an established vocabulary.

In terms of staging, McPake stands on an empty stage, but to the back of her are eight dark rectangular panels, joint together to form a semi-circle. On these, captions are projected to varying degrees of size, speed and clarity. In conjunction with this audio description, subtle use of light is used, complementing the audio and verbal cues. To some this may sound very ‘abstract’ and in some ways it is. However, underpinning the show is the duration of one relationship Bagshaw has and how the medical community interprets her condition.

Hannah McPake

By her own admission, Bagshaw used to not look for long-term boyfriends, as her condition would ultimately take its toll on any relationship. In the case of the man talked about in the show, the desire by the other party to let the relationship run its course and Bagshaw’s intution that this potential relationship had ‘legs’ informed her decision to ‘wait and see’.

In layman’s terms, the complex regional pain syndrome is when the nervious system is ‘wired incorrectly’, sending pain signals to the brain from parts of the body that are untouched. Often this occurs to an amplified degree. The slightest stimuli can set it off and the case of Bagshaw, she’s endured it since she was 19-years-old. She admits that while she recalls she once had a life that wasn’t dictated by it, she can’t truly remember it as she is in pain all the time. Pain equals life.

As a show, The Shape Of The Pain is meticulously crafted, with McPake vividly conveying how fatiguing – mentally and emotionally – living with CRPS is. The candid nature of what’s disclosed – including the ‘irrational’ desire to find fault in one’s partner for trying to help or for not having attained a ‘telepathic’ level of awareness – shows how counter-intuitive one’s thinking is when enduring pain constantly.

© Michael Davis 2018

The Shape Of The Pain runs at Battersea Arts Centre until 10th March.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s