It’s almost impossible to comprehend what pain feels like when you’re not currently experiencing it, and it is especially hard to understand what someone other than yourself physically feels. This demonstrates a limit to the empathy others are able to give to those who live with pain every day, and forms the basis of The Shape of the Pain. In this one woman performance the audience is taken through the everyday life of a person with chronic pain, which has no injury or source. This pain comes from the mind exclusively, and during the performance we are taken through this mindset with an extended monologue, and impressive lighting and sound.
The Shape of the Pain starts with an audio description of the set, lighting, and what to expect visually during the performance. It is also subtitled throughout, and was therefore certainly the most accessible show I have seen at the fringe or more widely. What is great is how these elements are not additions, but are instead embedded into the performance; an attitude which could definitely be adopted by more productions.
On the technical front, this was a very interesting production. The set was pared back, but elaborate for an Edinburgh Fringe show. There are eight metal sheets creating a semi-circular space for the performer, which also serves as a curved canvas for the subtitles and other lighting effects. At times the space is overwhelmed with noise and shapes, putting you on edge and making you feel uncomfortable. Jarring compositions designed to unsettle also play for ever so slightly too long. During this, we are told how this woman goes through life being unable to remember what it felt like before the pain, melding them together to draw us fully into her world.
Through this, there is also a story about dating and relationships in this context, and how hard it is to be in love when it would be so much easier to hate. There is anger that the love interest is so understanding, and she shouts that she wished he didn’t understand, so she could tell him to leave because he doesn’t understand her condition. The pain forms a shape which separates her from others, alienating her from comprehending the differences we have in reality. It also serves as a container, where she is able to move herself out of it and see it from the outside: an escapist’s coping mechanism.
The performance tends to want to remain on the lighter side, delving into darker subjects of mental health through this condition for moments, before switching into something more anecdotal. In this respect there is less to draw us into the true extremes of how it feels to live with chronic pain, and instead focusses more on living each and every day.
This monologue allows you to in some way feel what it must be like to live every day in pain. While it may not be the most dynamic performance you see at the Fringe, The Shape of the Pain is an interesting production which immerses you into the confusing and difficult mindset of living with chronic illness.
The Shape of Pain is showing at 19:30 at Summerhall as part of the Edinburgh Fringe until the 26th of August. For more information and tickets see here.