Jane Doe and The Shape of the Pain, Edinburgh Festival Fringe


Though the fringe is still often gloriously lo-tech, more shows and venues are embracing and exploring the role technology can play in live performance. New Zealand-based Zanetti Productions’ Jane Doe and China Plate’s The Shape of the Pain are powerful, challenging productions that use tech in different ways from each other, but it is essential to both and enhances the productions’ impact.

Jane Doe is an interactive, verbatim piece that whilst dealing with difficult, triggering material, it takes great care of the audience. Two polls, accessed from the audiences’ phones, allows them to check in and anonymously share their thoughts and feelings at various points in the show.

Trial transcripts are a major verbatim element, but interviews with volunteers who discuss their experiences of harassment, feminism and other issues also play a part. Video footage of the interviewees plays behind the solo performer’s recorded delivery of their words. Whilst the solo performer uses recorded delivery to speak their words, the incorporation of faces of these women – and some men – is an inclusive, non-exploitative way to employ verbatim text. Without these acknowledgements of how rife rape and sexual assault is, the show would have a much more narcissistic quality.

A large portion of the show is immensely angering – around the world, conviction rates are still very low, and right-wing media outlets regularly demonise the plaintiffs for ruining the defendant’s life. Some of the transcript material is graphic. But this is countered by the sweet story of a teenager kissing a boy at a school disco for the first time – though the girl’s definition of romance is dictated by modern romance films, many of which are misogynistic. This story is totally analogue; there are no projections, sound design or polls. Just feelings (and teen hormones) share this familiar coming-of-age story.

The character in The Shape of the Pain, performed by Hannah McPake, suffers from Complex Regional Pain Syndrome. CRPS, as we are told, is pain without a determined cause and is the result of disfunction in the neural pathways. There is no cure.

Using projection and sound design, the show aims to recreate the changeable sensations of this character’s pain. Sometimes, the sound is barely audible, sometimes the ever-evolving pitch and volume are overwhelming. Projections of the performer’s words are sometimes straightforward, at other points they swirl and zoom around the curved set, giving them a 3D effect. Whilst there’s no way for the audience to actually feel the character’s pain, the surprise and the intensity of the sound and projections cause anxiety, nausea, claustrophobia and dizziness. And that’s just me; no doubt others will have had different visceral sensations.

Not just a lecture or sensory experience, the show also weaves in the story of the character meeting a guy and trying to maintain a relationship whilst living with this condition. There are moments that are tenuously integrated and though not a long show by fringe standards, it carries on well after it’s natural end. The actor’s delivery is often anti-climactic.

As more venues at the fringe increase their tech capacity, no doubt we will see more technologically-developed work in Edinburgh. Even though these show’s aren’t better than low-tech shows, they are certainly better for the technology they use.

The Shape of the Pain runs through 26 August.
Jane Doe runs through 28 August.

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