Battersea Arts Centre, London – until 10 March 2018
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, joined 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.
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 intuition 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 nervous 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.