Louise Breckon-Richards stars in Can You Hear Me Running? next month at London’s Pleasance Theatre. The play is inspired by Louise’s own experience as a performer who loses her voice to a rare condition and decides to overcome the loss by running the London Marathon.
Can you imagine a muscle that you take for granted, one that you use every day in your profession suddenly not working properly anymore? Can you hear me running? tells my real story of how in 2009, I found that my voice was failing. It was a subtle change at first but as time went on, I realised that this could be more serious than I initially thought – especially as my livelihood comes from being a performer. I needed surgery and it was doubtful I’d perform professionally again, certainly as a singer, so this was devastating news. I think for many people with voice disorders there is, or there was for me, an element of shame attached, as it isn’t a short or long term problem that you can see.
During the difficult months that followed from diagnosis to surgery to rehabilitation I found that a new interest in running supported and empowered the bleak feelings I was carrying and gave me a purpose and new found strength. I had run a little before but now as one muscle was losing power, I found that my running muscles could and would get stronger. So much so that I decided to run the London marathon.
“Can you imagine a muscle that you take for granted, one that you use every day in your profession suddenly not working properly anymore?”
During this time, I met the writer Jo Harper, told her my story and that I had an idea to make it one day into a play. It felt too close for me to write, so she went off with my notes, basic outline and marathon blog which I wrote during this period and wrote a script, brilliantly reflecting my experience.
Since then, the project has built an incredible momentum securing Arts Council England funding twice. First was for our R&D last year where Steve Grihault joined as director, Dan Glover as musical director and composer and Eva Auster as projection design. We have now received further funding where we also have Adrian Gee designing, Steve Kirkham as movement director and Tom Turner as lighting designer.
Can You Hear Me Running? highlights just how fragile our voices are and how we take them for granted until we can’t use them anymore. As a mother, it was no easy feat with two children struggling with basic communication when I had periods of silence. As an actress who had worked professionally for years, my whole sense of identity was in crisis. This was where the running helped me to find a place where I could feel at ease. I think we underestimate how powerful the body can be – it releases much needed endorphins when we are exercising. My running became the thing that kept reminding me that I was here, that I hadn’t disappeared and that I could still, in my own way be heard.
The story explores how we can overcome loss or grief and often find, through a change of perception in one’s self, a greater place. The timing of me struggling with my voice coincided with my youngest son starting school. I think that during these transitions in life, we are re-identifying ourselves anyway, whether we are going back to full-time or part-time work or making changes to how we want to structure our lives now that we have children. Whether this manifests in the body is certainly an interesting question.
This show allows an opportunity to rekindle the joy of performing and the entertainer in me. It allows a space to play as an actor and explore and celebrate aspects of the profession that have been silent for a while.
Can You Hear Me Running? will be playing at Pleasance from 4 to 26 October 2016. Follow @MyTheatreMates on Twitter for details on our competition to win a pair of tickets to the show.