Diving into a world she makes so real that you can’t tell where her story ends and reality begins, Alice Mary Cooper tells the tale of Elizabeth Moncello – creator of the Butterfly stroke.
Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh – 11-17 May 2015
Waves is a profoundly moving little story as Cooper remembers how she met Elizabeth at a local Edinburgh hospice. Over endless cups of earl grey tea, the two women – the young nurse recently over from Australia and the 95 year-old Australian inventor of a new way of swimming – bonded over a mutual love for the pools they both swam in back home in Sidney.
It’s compelling stuff from Cooper in her simple blue dress, on a stage dressed with equal simplicity. A chair, table, evening paper, teacup and an ancient cricket-ball box are enough for her to bring the relationship to life and through it, the story of Elizabeth’s childhood.
Growing up on Gabo Island, 600 yards off the coast Australia in the 1920s she started life afraid of the waves but, through first tragedy and then her own focus and determination, learned to love the sea.
It’s the little notes which makes this really stand out. The looks which cross Cooper’s face as she waits for Elizabeth to finish her midnight swim, the sounds her younger brother Eddie makes as he trails behind as they trudge out to the pink granite Gabo lighthouse to fetch their father home for his tea.
So by the time Elizabeth is teaching herself to swim by copying first the fishes, then the penguins and finally the dolphins she sees around her, Cooper has built up a delightful rapport with her audience.
She can take time out to mock the aloof, catwalk ways of the fish. And, with equally delicate direction from Gill Robertson, ensures that the strong physicality of Cooper’s comedy fits smoothly into the narrative, as she brings her own love of swimming to the story and combines it with Elizabeth’s work in inadvertently creating a new swimming style.
Alice Mary Cooper does have an agenda here, over and above the simple telling of a tale. Through this tale she is celebrating a generation of women who, like Australian Olympic gold-winning swimmer Fanny Durack, remain largely unsung and unremembered, but who performed extraordinary feats before being sucked into the mundane struggle to survive.
Part of Waves appeal is that while it is a part of Imaginate and is currently aimed at an over-eight year-old audience, it was not initially created as such. Gill Robertson’s direction has undoubtedly brought out the elements which appeal to such an audience, but there is no attempt to lessen the impact of its emotionally buffeting moments.
For fifty glorious minutes, however, it is enough to bask in the glow of Alice Mary Cooper’s imperceptibly crafted, cleverly told tale with its feel-good twists.
Running time: 50 minutes (no interval)
Traverse Theatre, 10 Cambridge Street EH1 2ED
Monday 11 – Sunday 17 May 2015
Mon 11: 7.15pm, Tue 12: 10.30am, Thu 14 May: 10.30am & 1.15pm, Sat 16: 11.30am, Sun 17: 4pm.
Details from: www.imaginate.org.uk/festival-show/waves/
Tickets from: www.traverse.co.uk
Alice Mary Cooper: alicemarycooper.com/waves
Alice Mary Cooper on twitter: @alicemarycooper