Sarah Hopfinger is an artist who lives with chronic pain. Her show, Pain and I, explores her relationship with that pain. This might sound gloomy – and there’s lots in here that’s hard to hear (harder to live with, obviously) – but this is a funny, imaginative, curiously optimisic, elegantly written piece of theatre.
This is part theatre, part dance, part elegaic poem, accompanied by original classical music by Alicia Jane Turner. A voiceover addresses the audience before we see the performer, thanking us for coming along, encouraging us to be comfortable in this space, to feel part of this space.
As the lights fade up, Hopfinger is revealed standing, naked, with her back to the audience. The choreography reflects her claustrophobia, her feelings of being trapped, of being confined with – abandoned to – her pain. And yet there’s joy in there too. She can’t rely on her body and yet she’s strong, vigorous, fluid, captivating. The nudity never feels gratuitous – it only serves to reinforce the strangely intimate nature of her relationship with the pain, part of her and yet outwith her control.
The spoken sections of Hopfinger’s production are beautiful. Elegant, sparing and searingly honest. She addresses her pain as if it were a lover – she cannot live without it and she can’t live with it. She describes her attempts to size her life to manage her pain, scaling down her ambitions until she is avoiding the world for fear of letting it down.
If there’s any message here, it’s about living life with compassion, recognising that there’s much we don’t see in other people’s lives but that doesn’t mean it’s not there. ‘There’s a crack’, observes Hopfinger. “It lets the light in”. We tend to assume people could and should be fixed when something is wrong. But Hopfinger’s show is a stark reminder that some problems can’t be fixed – but acceptance and kindness might go some small way to help.