“It is a piece about love and pain. And understanding. And it is extraordinary.”
The Shape of the Pain was developed by Rachel Bagshaw and Chris Thorpe as a theatrical exploration of Rachel’s experience of living with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome – a neuropathic condition that causes constant chronic pain. As the performer articulates in the opening moments of the piece: ‘[It] is an experiment. In how we talk about pain. If we can ever talk about it in a way someone else can understand.’ The piece is also about love; specifically about this woman’s experience of falling in love, and of being in love. It is a piece about love and pain. And understanding. And it is extraordinary.
The elements of the show are simple: one performer, a curve of dark grey metals joined edge to edge onto which text, light and occasional monochrome images are projected, and a soundscape. The piece runs at seventy minutes, and it is a testament to the performer Hannah McPake’s exceptional skill that time passes in a moment, and we are released back into the world after what seems like an extended breath – in some way subtly changed, as if we had been taken apart and reassembled.
Chris Thorpe’s writing is magnificent, swooping as it does between lyricism, abstraction, disintegration and the concrete. It is just devastatingly good. The poetry is everywhere. In angry lists. In everyday observations. And in metaphorical flights of fancy. It is also a hymn to the word ‘fuck’, in all its splendid incarnations.
The writing and the performance operate within an intricate web of light and sound. Melanie Wilson’s textured soundscape is stunning, and Joshua Pharo’s spare video and lighting design is another essential part of this intense and darkly dazzling piece of theatre.
Works of art which endure seem always to have the ability simultaneously to address specific experience and yet encompass the universal. The Shape of the Pain belongs with these. It leaves you with a greater understanding of this rare and complex condition, but also with fresh insight into what it is to be human. It is a rare privilege to see work of this calibre. Go.
“a multi-layered and contemporarily engaging piece of art”
For those who have read up on their gender theory, you will know that once you begin you are lost in a labyrinth of questions; more and more questions that eventually guide you to a new reality. A new understanding of the world around you.
Bullish, by Milk Presents Theatre Company, undoubtedly tackled this beast head-on. In this world of Greek myths, labyrinths and minotaurs we are taken on a journey of the complexities of gender identity, and in the fluid negotiation of gender transition. Created and performed by artists who identify as Trans, non-binary and gender-fluid we can now thankfully hear the voice of those historically made voiceless.
Imaginative, hilarious and poignant this production is a must-see. Not only because of its serious subject area but also because Bullish is a fantastic theatrical performance in its own right. Lucy Skilbeck is evidently both a skilled writer and director who is able to create a multi-layered and contemporarily engaging piece of art. Imbued with humour and a serious undertone, Skilbeck’s poetic writing left me wanting more.
The most encouraging aspect of this production was how all the different theatrical elements really collaborated with one another. Joshua Pharo’s lighting design and Emma Baily’s design were truly magnificent, without which the piece would not have been the same. Whilst, the stage design was minimalistic the cast knew how to navigate the space, adding a beauty to this minimalism and with the brilliant lighting design, it added a polished high quality aesthetic to this production.
Again, the costumes were simple but effective. Often using one or two items of clothing to represent a character this simple use of costume to multi-role worked brilliantly because of the way the piece incorporated these costume changes often making a point and bringing attention to this theatrical device.
I often found myself laughing or tapping my feet in joy to the wacky and fantastical musical numbers that David Lewington composed. The sound design and composition of the songs were flawless. It was really great that each cast member was able to show what they were made of through a character song that just added the cherry on the top to this already delicious dish.
Of course, such a production could not have been achieved if it wasn’t for the talented and gender-fierce ensemble. Their choral storytelling really demonstrated this casts’ ability to work as an ensemble; holding us in the palm of their hand and bringing us into their world. I really must commend and congratulate the cast for putting on a truly bullish performance.
Milk Presents Theatre Company, I am feeling liberated by your production.
Reviewed by Daniel Correia
Photography by Ben Millar Cole
is at Camden People’s Theatre until 30th September