Friday, 2 June 2017

The Dramaturgy of the Pain: Rachel Bagshaw @ Edfringe 2017

The Shape of the Pain


Fringe First Award winning Chris Thorpe joins forces with Rachel Bagshaw to present a brand new piece about a love affair seen through the eyes of someone with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome.

Written by Chris Thorpe | Developed with and Directed by Rachel Bagshaw with an original score by Melanie Wilson

Summerhall, Old Lab, 2 – 26 Aug 2017 (not 3, 14 & 21), 19.30 (20.40)

Following his extra-ordinarily thought-provoking exploration of confirmation bias, Chris Thorpe pens a brand new solo show conceived and directed by Rachel Bagshaw about living with chronic pain performed by Hannah McPake.

Based on Bagshaw’s own experience of living with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) and her interpretation of its physical and mental effects, the play explores living with chronic pain and how it alters our senses. 

The production is a true artistic and scientific collaboration, bringing together a unique theatrical language of words, sound and visual effects that have been influenced by cutting edge medical research (and vice versa).

What was the inspiration for this performance?

The Shape of the Pain is based on my own experience of living with chronic pain. I was really interested in the various ways that we communicate physical pain. I experience my condition as pain but also as shapes, colours and sounds, and I wanted to see if it would be possible to express this experience theatrically. 

Working with Chris Thorpe and Melanie Wilson has really helped the show to develop, as we’ve been exploring how the text and sound can combine to give an experience of the pain. The show asks whether it is truly possible to truly ever understand someone else’s pain – and how this shapes our view of the world.

Is performance still a good space for the public discussion of ideas? 

Absolutely. Live performance offers a really unique experience where the creative work can have a conversation with the audience in a way it is impossible to do in another art form. This show really invited the audience to engage in a discussion of the ideas at its heart which can only really come from experiencing all its elements in a live setting. I hope that the performance will encourage audience members to discover something new and discuss the themes within it beyond the show.

How did you become interested in making performance?

I began making theatre as a child as the village I grew up in had a really small but rich community arts scene, so I feel really lucky to have been immersed in that from a pretty young age. I was around a lot of devised and self-written work then, as well so this show has been a return to work that inspired me to become a theatre maker. 

Is there any particular approach to the making of the show?

The show has been a hugely collaborative experience, with all elements of the world developing from my own personal experience of pain and the sounds and colours it makes. The writing and sound, in particular, have developed as a response to this, which has been a really unusual way of working.  

We’ve also worked with a team of science advisors who all have different expertise on pain. They have been able to advise on the creative elements to help ensure an amount of medical accuracy to the portrayal of pain within the show.

Does the show fit with your usual productions?

I have worked a lot with integrating sound into my work and this is an element that is very present within The Shape of the Pain. However, this is the first time that I’m using my own personal experience as a starting point to create a play. This was a really important story for me to share with a wider audience; my experience is very specific but it creates a really unusual lens through which to look at the world.

I also wanted to ensure that access was integrated into the show as this is something that is really close to my heart. Captioning has been embedded into the AV design and audio description will be available via headsets. Both of these elements have had the involvement of the creative team so they are firmly embedded in the world of the show.  

What do you hope that the audience will experience?

The show is an experiment in whether we can communicate pain – but also the joy that has to exist too. I hope the audience will gain an insight into what the experience of living with pain is like, and of how we view it in our own lives, however that might be present.  It is a show which engages with the senses; we use sound, colour and light to create the pain in the space. But it’s also a love story – about a couple of people getting to know each other and seeing if they can make it work. 

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?

The sensory world of the show is a really vital part which we’ve devised through lots of experimentation in the room and with several work in progress sharings along the way to test out the material. It’s a show that really relies on the audience and so it’s been really important to us to talk to people about their experience along the way. The sound is like a second character within the show, and the performer needs to interact with it as well as the audience. We’ve also worked a lot on the access for the audience and on making this a cohesive part of the show. 

The Shape of the Pain follows a woman who attempts to express the physical pain that she lives with day in and day out. When she meets someone new, they have to learn how to navigate life, love and the pain together. Pain is notoriously troublesome for doctors to analyse, requiring patients to give subjective reports of what they feel, and how much; The Shape of the Pain asks whether others can ever really understand our pain. Performed by Hannah McPake in a duet with Melanie Wilson’s extraordinary sound design, Bagshaw, Thorpe and Wilson explore the concept of never-ending pain and the unexpected joy that can be found whilst living with it.

Captioning and audio description will be integrated into The Shape of the Pain, making every performance of the show accessible.

Rachel Bagshaw said: “The Shape of the Pain is a unique experience for an audience, as they gradually become immersed in the extra-sensory world which I experience with my condition. The show feels hugely important as we endeavour to engage with how we talk about pain, and how the shadows it can create also let in colour and light. Using creative access as part of the aesthetic also opens the show up to all audiences”.

Rachel Bagshaw makes innovative theatre which uses sound to tell stories. She is also co-founder of Blazon Theatre, currently developing Icons by Paula B Stanic. Previous work includes Hamlet, (Young Vic), Resonance at the Still Point of Change (Unlimited Festival, South Bank Centre), The Rhinestone Rollers, Just Me, Bell (Graeae). She was Resident Assistant Director at the Young Vic from 2010-11 and previously led the education programme at disabled-led theatre company Graeae. She is an associate artist at Wilton's and an Associate Director for RADA Outreach.

Chris Thorpe is an award-winning playwright and theatre maker. He was a founder member of Unlimited Theatre and an Artistic Associate of live art/theatre company Third Angel. His solo show Confirmation, developed with and directed by Rachel Chavkin (The TEAM), won a 2014 Fringe First Award and has toured nationally and internationally. He has worked with, among others, Forest Fringe, Slung Low, Chris Goode, RashDash, Belarus Free Theatre and Portuguese experimental company mala voadora. He is an Associate at the Royal Exchange, Manchester and has written plays for the Unicorn Theatre, The Royal Court, The Gate Theatre and Royal Exchange.

Melanie Wilson is an award winning theatre maker and sound artist. She makes performances, installations, films and audio works that centre on the use of sound as a distinct and subjective agency. Her work has been presented in the UK and internationally, featuring recently in the sound design for the work of director Katie Mitchell, at The National Theatre and Barbican, London; Schauspeilhaus, Cologne; Avignon Festival; Theatretreffen, Berlin Festspeile; Schaubuhne, Berlin; Berg Theatre, Vienna, the Salzburg Festival and DeutscheSchauspeilHaus, Hamburg.

Hannah McPake has performed and toured with many companies including Shakespeare's Globe, National Theatre Wales, National Theatre Scotland, Improbable, Told By An Idiot, Northern Stage Company and the Manchester Library Theatre, as well as her own award winning theatre company Gagglebabble. Her television credits include Trollied (Sky 1) and Skins (E4). Hannah trained at Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama.

China Plate is an independent theatre studio launched in 2006 that works with artists, venues, festivals and funders to make original, exciting theatre that plays with form and has narrative at its heart. The company are also Associate Producers at Warwick Arts Centre where they develop and commission new work, Artistic Associates at the New Wolsey Theatre where they are Directors of PULSE Festival, Programmers of New Directions (the NRTF showcase), and producers of innovative development programmes including The Darkroom, The Optimists (producer training) and The First Bite and Bite Size Festivals and partners with The Place, The NRTF and Take Art on the Rural Touring Dance Initiative.

Running Time: 70 minutes | Suitable for ages 12+

Accessibility: Captioning and audio description are integrated into the show
Company Information

Directed by Rachel Bagshaw Written by Chris Thorpe
Designed by Madeleine Girling Video and Lighting Design by Joshua Pharo
Composition and Sound Design by Melanie Wilson Movement by Raquel Meseguer
Access/Audio Description Consulting by Michael Achtman Produced by China Plate

Hannah McPake

Listings information

Old Lab, Summerhall, 1 Summerhall, EH9 1PL (Venue 26)

2 - 26 Aug (not 3, 14, 21), 19.30 – 20.40

Previews 2 & 4 Aug: £10 (£8 concs)

5 - 13, 15 - 20, 22 - 26 Aug: £15 (£12 concs) | 0131 560 1581


3 June Pulse Festival, New Wolsey

21 – 22 July Battersea Arts Centre, London

27 July artsdepot, London

Commissioned by Battersea Arts Centre and The New Wolsey Theatre. Supported by artsdepot. Funded by The Wellcome Trust.

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