THE SHAPE OF PAIN, AT THE JUNCTION

THE SHAPE OF PAIN, AT THE JUNCTION

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How do you portray pain? Not just any pain but exquisite, penetrating, savage pain that gnaws through to the soul? This was the challenge thrown down by Rachel Bagshaw, a theatre director who suffers from Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) – a neurological disorder which manifests itself in 24/7 bodily torment without any known cause. A theatre work about endless shattering pain may not sound like a fun night out in the front stalls but Bagshaw’s collaborative play provided a stunning and mind-bending experience for the audience. Performed by Hannah McPake and drawing on a thrilling sound and light landscape, this former Fringe First winner provided what The Junction does best – edgy, risk-taking theatre providing a showcase for small-scale touring companies (in the way that the late lamented Mumford Theatre did before its unheralded, shock closure in January).

Bagshaw worked with writer Chris Thorpe to provide a thoroughly exciting and memorable script – poetic and lyrical, brutal and excoriating by turn. Its structure reminded me of a piece about Chet Baker by Cambridge-based performer, Mike Maran. In his touching biography, the jazz trumpeter’s constant companion, his syringe of heroin, was portrayed as a character, a friend/enemy. In ‘The Shape of Pain’, our fictional hero addresses her torturer in a similarly anthropomorphic manner.

McPake is astonishingly convincing as the CRPS sufferer, a young woman in early thirties. Her suffering seems unbounded but she tells us that ‘the pain underpins me. But that is not all I am….Some days, some rare days, I just want what everyone else wants.’ And so begins her journey – her personal encounters with the medical world (able to offer nothing) and a love affair with an unnamed partner, a relationship that has to cope with the gooseberry of pain. Thorpe’s text is at once spare, sparse and clipped, like juddering flashes of ache; and then there is long flowing monologue, a torrent of words to describe love in a pained body. Throughout the play, startling images, shapes and shadows are thrown on to a series of eight plain, grey slabs through which lights can be cast. Against a plain dark stage, the largely monochrome projections – including the words of the play – provide a running commentary on the text. McPake’s performance is beautifully nuanced – from heart-breaking pathos to bitter anger. She has a magnetic stage presence, shining eyes allowing a window into a wracked soul.

Towards the end of the play, the relationship reaches breaking point – literally – as the actor riffs on the subject on her lover’s understandable but hopeless offers of help. We hear a torrent of ‘Have you tried’ suggestions that are treated with increasing anger and mania. There is bittersweet comedy here too. – ‘Have you tried interstellar travel, casual racism, cold baths…’ There was also an audiovisualisation of a peak pain episode that will stay in my mind for a very long time. There is gentleness and humanity, hope and despair. Above all there is the nearest thing to the almost impossible – a portrayal of what someone else's pain might sound, look and feel like.

 

ELIZABETH I, AT THE ARTS THEATRE

ELIZABETH I, AT THE ARTS THEATRE

BEETHOVEN, MOZART & DOVE AT TRINITY COLLEGE CHAPEL

BEETHOVEN, MOZART & DOVE AT TRINITY COLLEGE CHAPEL