Caro Meets Theatre Interview

Hannah McPake: The Shape Of The Pain

By | Published on Friday 15 March 2019

We first came across a show called ‘The Shape Of The Pain’ when it had a highly successful run up at the 2017 Edinburgh Festival, and because I’m someone affected by chronic pain, my interest was immediately piqued. It had a run in London in early 2019, but this month it returns to the capital for a series of performances at Wilton’s Music Hall.

I was convinced we’d already run a Q&A on it, and we hadn’t, but that opened up a great new opportunity: I arranged a chat with star of the show Hannah McPake, to find out more.

CM: Can you start by telling us a bit about the play? Whose story does it tell?
HM: ‘The Shape of the Pain’ is a love story told through the eyes of some one with Chronic Pain. The show is based on the experiences of director Rachel Bagshaw. It asks the question is it possible to ever truly understand what someone else is feeling, whether that be love or pain.

CM: What themes does the play explore?
HM: It explores themes of connection, the need to be understood, love and pain. Mixed in with a healthy dose of neuroscience!

CM: It feels as though people are pretty ill informed about chronic pain conditions and the way they can affect people’s lives – is it the intention of the play to address that?
HM: It’s something I knew very little about before I became involved in the project. One of the things I’ve become more aware of through working on the show is how much there is still to learn about the understanding and treatment of pain and how many misconceptions there are.

Although the show is about Chronic Pain it uses the lens of a love story to explore the universal need to articulate what we are feeling and be understood. The show is operating on two levels, the character’s relationship with the pain and the love story, and Chris’s script weaves together the two strands beautifully. Hopefully even if audience members have no experience of chronic pain they can relate to what it’s like to fall in love and the complexity of having a relationship.

CM: What do you think someone who is directly affected by chronic pain might get out of the show?
HM: Hopefully they’ll feel that the show is an honest reflection of some of the experience of living with daily pain. We’ve had excellent responses from audiences. But the show can also trigger pain for some people. Particularly people with CRPS.

CM: What attracted you to the role, and how did you get involved with the show?
HM: I was called in to audition for the show, I met Rachel, the director. We read through sections of the script and Rachel talked me through her ideas for the show. I was really intrigued by the subject matter particularly when she described the way the performance would relate to the worlds or sound and projected light. The show is a dialogue between the three elements. I was thrilled when I was offered the job. The role is a real challenge. It’s 70 mins of text, that breaks down at points to replicate neurological path ways, sometimes it’s just pages and pages of lists! and every performance in captioned so I can’t afford to get a word wrong.

CM: Can we talk a bit more about you…? How did you end up in this career? Did you always want to perform?
HM: I’ve been involved in theatre since I was very young, starting in school drama and youth theatre. I trained at The Royal Welsh College of Drama and since graduating have been working as an actor. I also make work with my own company Gagglebabble.

CM: Can you tell us a bit about Gagglebabble, and what it does?
HM: I co-founded Gagglebabble in 2013 with amazing composer, writer and performer Lucy Rivers. We’re a Cardiff based gig-theatre company. We are drawn to stories from the wrong side of the tracks, always served up with a dose of black humour.  Music is at the heart of the work we make and we always include an original score played by professional musicians. We’ve collaborated with lots of Wales’s top theatre companies – most recently on ‘Double Vision’, a Hitchcock inspired thriller with Wales Millennium Centre, and before that ‘Wonderman’, a retelling of Roald Dahl’s short stories for adults for National Theatre Wales.

CM: And can you also tell us about Shakedown? What is that?
HM: Shakedown is an experiment in play. It’s a collaboration between myself, Alison John from YelloBrick, a company who create digital and physical playful experiences, and Ernie Sparkles, a burlesque and cabaret performer. We all make work that has play at the heart of it and felt like there wasn’t really a space in Cardiff where we could develop that skill; so we set Shakedown up to encourage collaboration between artists from different disciplines and platforms. We hold training sessions and masterclasses. We’ve been a bit quiet for a while as we’ve all been busy with other projects but we’ll be kicking things back off later in the year.

CM: What aims and ambitions do you have for the future?
HM: I’d like to continue balancing exciting acting jobs with making my own work. And I’m moving house.

CM: What’s coming up next for you after this?
HM: I’ve just found out that I have been selected by National Theatre Wales as the winner of Radical Creatures, a new commission for a Welsh or Wales Based Female Theatre maker. I’ll be creating a brand new show with them in 2020. It’s called ‘Balloon Girl’ and will be a large-scale, multi-platform production inspired by Cardiff’s Fine Arts, Industrial and Maritime Exhibition of 1896 – an enormous spectacle that drew over a million visitors to the city – and in particular the extraordinary true story of a hot air balloon flight that ended in tragedy.

‘The Shape Of The Pain’ is on at Wilton’s Music Hall from 19-24 Mar, see the venue website here for all the information and to book tickets.

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