BMJ 2017;358:j3882 doi: 10.1136/bmj.j3882 (Published 2017 August 15)

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Empathy, please! Zosia Kmietowicz The BMJ

every day. The traditional love story of boy meets girl is interlaced with age old conundrums such as whether it is ever possible to understand another person’s experience of pain, to empathise, and to maintain that compassion through thick and thin. “The show is a very slippery experience,” Bagshaw told The BMJ. “It is about the experience of pain and your perception of that experience. You think you have pinned it down one minute, only to be thrown off guard the next.”

[Image: Murdo & MacLeod/]

Rachel Bagshaw has had complex regional pain syndrome for some years. But it wasn’t until two years ago, when she was trying to describe to someone the feelings of dissociation she gets when her pain is excruciatingly bad, that she thought she could turn her experiences into a theatrical performance. The result is The Shape of the Pain, a one woman show currently on at the Edinburgh Festival, which she created with the help of writer Chris Thorpe and actor Hannah McPake. Also important to the show’s creation was Rachel’s rheumatologist, with whom she says she shifted the doctor-patient relationship to one of artist-collaborator and which, she says—for her, at least—resulted in a “fulfilling partnership.” The show uses light and sound to characterise the intense feelings of physical discomfort that Rachel experiences almost

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Many people with chronic pain have told her how they identify with the show, how it articulates something that they had found difficult to express, said Bagshaw. But general theatre audiences also engage with it and the journey of reflective empathy it elicits, she said. The Guardian review described the show as “an unexpected thing of beauty,” turning subject matter that “could have been dry and earnest” into something that is “funny and sad and wise.”1 The Shape of the Pain is at Summerhall, Edinburgh, until 26 August. Dates for around the country will be announced for 2018. 1

Gardner L. The Shape of the Pain review: kaleidoscopic exercise in empathy. Guardian 7 Aug 2017.

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