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The Shape of Pain, Royal Festival Hall – Review

Pros: A good performance from Esther McAuley, who delivers a very honest account of what it is like to live with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome.

 Cons: Some scenes felt almost too surreal and halted understanding.

Pros: A good performance from Esther McAuley, who delivers a very honest account of what it is like to live with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome.  Cons: Some scenes felt almost too surreal and halted understanding. My favourite place in all of London has to be the Southbank. If you have never been, then I strongly recommend going; preferably with your partner, as I can’t think of a more romantic place to stroll than along the Thames. Friday nights are always buzzing and there is always plenty to see, so I recommend arriving early to have a walk around if…

Summary

Rating

Good

An authentic account of a woman’s experience of love and pain; could be a really special piece with some fine tuning.

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My favourite place in all of London has to be the Southbank. If you have never been, then I strongly recommend going; preferably with your partner, as I can’t think of a more romantic place to stroll than along the Thames. Friday nights are always buzzing and there is always plenty to see, so I recommend arriving early to have a walk around if you are seeing a show in this area.

This month sees Royal Festival Hall host the Unlimited Festival, a six-day festival that celebrates the artistic vision and originality of disabled artists. Around the ginormous hall, different artworks are exhibited, ‘We are all Human’, one of them reads. Different corners are filled with an array of exhibitions and performances from dance to literature, stand-up to live music. The main dance floor has even been turned into a disco.

Downstairs, in the rather stuffy Blue Room, is where I saw The Shape of Pain, conceived and directed by Rachel Bagshaw and written by Chris Thorpe. It follows a woman’s struggle as she battles Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS), an illness that is characterised by severe pain and swelling, often without any cause or reason. This one-woman show, performed by Esther McAuley, tells the character’s experience of love whilst living with the sometimes debilitating illness.

Unafraid of having meaningless one-night-stands, she unexpectedly meets a man one night who she falls in love with. He is perfect and does everything right at first, but as he tries to comprehend his girlfriend’s pain, the relationship fizzles out.

Flipping between naturalistic monologue and disjointed, surreal scenes, Bagshaw and Thorpe attempt to explain what it is like to suffer this pain. We are asked to imagine shapes and instructed to hold cubes, but as McAuley says ‘You can use all the metaphors you like… some things are inexplicable’.

Esther McAuley does a fine job presenting this rehearsed reading, showing moments of genuine comedy and deep emotion. When the script is complete and the full production is ready, I have no doubt that she will certainly do the role the justice it deserves. However, it does still require some amendments. The surrealist scenes were slightly too surreal and made little sense at all without the aid of light or sound. Transitions between scenes were also confusing, with no signal to let us know we were moving on. I also got fed up with the amount of times ‘or’ and ‘and’ were used. That being said, what I saw was a rehearsed reading and with some simple changes, the piece definitely has potential.

More conviction is needed from the sound. We were given snippets of sound effects but they weren’t quite loud enough or long enough to work out what they were. We hear a conversation the character has with herself in her head which works really well, but for the final product I’d really like to see more of this. With investment into light and sound, I think technology could really aid this performance and help move it from good to excellent.

Overall, China Plate have a strong piece of theatre. The script itself is quite powerful and definitely gives you an understanding of how you can never truly comprehend how awful it must be to live with that amount of pain. The surrealism needs some modification in order for it to work properly and I would definitely like to see them build on the sound.Returning in the spring, I will definitely pop along to see how this piece has progressed and I thoroughly look forward to its final production.

Author: Chris Thorpe
Conceived and Directed by: Rachel Bagshaw
Producer: China Plate Theatre
Commissioned by: Battersea Arts Centre and The New Wolsey Theatre
Booking Information: This show has now completed its run.

About Grace Ward

Grace Ward
Grace is a director, writer, teacher, telephonist, daughter, wife and friend all rolled into one. Being a native northerner, she moved from Yorkshire to London over 10 years ago and has never looked back. Before taking the plunge into directing, Grace studied Physical Theatre and although there's nothing she loves more than gritty dialogue, she loves it when she's surprised by something a bit more physical. A lover of all things dark and disturbing, she will be the first to put her name down for anything that is not-so-middle-of-the-road.