This Play Explores What It's Like To Live With Chronic Pain

The Shape of the Pain, Battersea Arts Centre ★★★☆☆

By David Lloyd-Davies Last edited 6 months ago
This Play Explores What It's Like To Live With Chronic Pain The Shape of the Pain, Battersea Arts Centre 3

Telling her own experience of living with chronic pain, Rachel Bagshaw’s The Shape of the Pain hopes to bring awareness and empathetic curiosity to this much misunderstood and often maligned condition (even within the medical profession). Boasting a long list of impressive names from the worlds of both pain management and sensory theatre, this production uses ‘sound engineering’ and dynamic lighting with the aim of deepening the audience’s perception of Bagshaw’s experience.

Unable to tell her own story without the words inciting worse pain, Bagshaw is played by Hannah McPake who, as she says in the lengthy introduction, "speaks as much with her hands and face as her words". Set against a black background that acts a canvas for the lighting effects and subtitling, McPake does a good job of competing for the audience’s attention. It’s an unnecessary competition: the story itself, the rich articulation of Bagshaw’s experience, is sufficient without the audiovisual pageantry. Despite the obvious metaphor, the constant intrusion of the effects get in the way of hearing the important messages of the piece.

The plot hangs loosely around a relationship with an unseen man. We follow his movements between understanding and misunderstanding Bagshaw’s experience as we learn more and more about this debilitating condition. There’s a fine line between feeling misunderstood and screaming with self-pity that this play fails to navigate with enough clarity for the end not to be a relief. And perhaps that’s the point — once the lights are up we can leave; Bagshaw cannot.

The Shape of the Pain, Battersea Arts Centre, Lavender Hill, SW11 5TN. Until Saturday 10th March

Last Updated 23 February 2018