Brighton Fringe 2014
A direct and initmate piece of solo story-theatre about the woman who invented the butterfly stroke.
Alice Mary Cooper has created and tells this short story in a gentle way that has something of water about it. The story flows easily, is fairly linear in narrative, and its directness is a strength. This is a story she wants to tell, a story she stumbled upon, and there’s a freshness about that which carries both the tale and some of its emotional elements.
Simply staged, the Burrow is a decent choice for the story. A huge fireplace forms part of this church-owned building, and one could almost imagine that fire blazing on a late Autumn evening for the sharing of this tale. The space is ideal for storytelling.
It’s a biography, and it proceeds more at the pace of the breast stroke than butterfly, though the proceedings are quickly over.Elizabeth’s life is changed by her encounter with the sea, and the world of swimming is changed by that encounter. Direct storytelling lies at the core of this production and Cooper is more than able to carry that story.
Some of the physicality protrudes a bit from the gentle pace and mood of the performance, and I think further work could be done by a director to create physical consistency across the whole piece.
But we are drawn in, and we smile with the moments of humour and there’s plenty of emotional connection to be had with the character at the centre of this story. The connection to the material feels entirely authentic and the performer’s immersion in it keeps us committed until the end.
Some might say a lovely piece of theatre. Some would point to its charm, others to its warm simplicity. I’d also draw attention to the themes of a life that matters and the flow we find when we connect to something that fires our passion.
I am happy to strong recommend this production for its warmth, confidence and accessibility – a hit last year on the Fringe in Edinburgh, and it is well worth catching on tour.