What are we without a voice? This is the central question of Can you hear me running?, a charming and funny, but also oddly inscrutable, show playing this month at the Pleasance Theatre.

The play follows Louise (Louise Breckton-Richards), an actress, mother and singer – as she describes herself who finds out she can no longer sing because of an obscure condition of the larynx. Ever since she was a little girl, singing with her “Da” in her childhood home in the Welsh countryside, singing has been the fulcrum of her identity. Now that she has lost this vital means of self-expression, how does she negotiate her professional, familial and social life?

Running, somewhat randomly, is the answer. Louise takes comfort in the silent rhythms of jogging and is able to reclaim something of her old certainties. The reasons why she finds such solace in pounding the pavements is explained well enough, even if the emotional connection Louise has to running seems a little unconvincing.  It feels like a stand-in, or an attempt to recover a facsimile of what she felt while singing, rather than a true passion. The fact that she chose running was almost incidental – and could have been replaced by knitting, baking, painting, or anything else. Perhaps her rationale is so deep and so internalised, as the work suggests, harking back to childhood memories and adult traumas. The fact remains that there are problems with representing it on stage; the processes are so subconscious that they are almost inconceivable in dramatic form.

However, as this is clearly a heavily autobiographical work it seems a little pointless splitting hairs about the character’s intentions. The work appears to be based on Breckton-Richards’ real experiences. The layering of testimony with photos of Louise running the London marathon and recordings from her speech therapist; mixed with more overtly staged elements such as the pianist (Dan Glover) who provides a live soundtrack, is a clever twist and adds a down-to-earth verisimilitude. It also raises the interesting conceptual question: how much of our identities are genuine, and how much is staged for the benefit of others?

In a similar vein, the exploration of Louise’s medical condition is also overtly scientific: we see the footage of her stroboscopy (a camera was inserted down her throat to see her larynx) and the narrative is interspersed with testimony from her doctors and therapists. This, if anything, is the standout element of the show; it draws attention to the raw mechanics of our being and the social meanings that we heap upon the biological facts of our existence.

Other elements are, however, less successful. Louise’s persona sometimes comes across as a little cartoonish, almost like a children’s TV presenter. Some of the explanatory sections are a little laboured and the lyrical soliloquies are dangerously close to tipping into the cloyingly mawkish. There are also a few ponderous, slow scenes in which Louise silently paces across the stage and clambers over the white boxes that make up the set, the reasons for which are hard to fathom.

There is plenty of interesting stuff in Can you hear me running? and it raises some interesting questions about how we construct our identity and how we choose to perform it. Ultimately, though, its parts didn’t quite add up to a compelling whole.

Can you hear me running? is playing at the Pleasance Theatre until October 23.

Photo: Graham Saville