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The Shape of the Pain review at Summerhall, Edinburgh – ‘skilful but sombre’

Hannah McPake in The Shape of Pain at Summerhall, Edinburgh Hannah McPake in The Shape of the Pain at Summerhall, Edinburgh
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How can you articulate the physical experience of pain when it seems beyond the reach of language? How can someone express the felt quality of a bodily affliction that has no apparent cause? The Shape of the Pain, written by Chris Thorpe, is a technically deft but slightly arid one-woman show based on director Rachel Bagshaw’s experience of living with complex regional pain syndrome – chronic pain that persists long after a minor injury.

Hannah McPake performs, a wide-eyed and emphatic presence, dressed simply in black, alone in an unadorned space framed by a curving set of dark grey panels. Everything McPake says is projected on to the screens and Thorpe’s language sometimes achieves a poetically resonant power. Sections of neuroscientific explanation prove interesting, but overall there’s a crucial failure of emotional connection or theatrical alchemy.

The more effective – and affecting – sensory exploration of pain is done with light and sound. Joshua Pharo blots the space with a subtle, sickly green that morphs into patches of jaundiced yellow or the deep crimson of a bruised plum. Sound abides like the pain; piercing notes are overwhelmingly and uncomfortably present, while low drones, dull thuds and amorphous hums nag for attention.

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Skilful, sombre show about living with chronic pain makes clever use of light and sound