Alice Mary Cooper ushers us into a tiny black room, onstage are a cup, saucer and red cork cricket ball resting on a cardboard box. We are invited into the room as if it had been previously arranged, as if we all knew the woman that Cooper is about to tell us about. ‘Liz’ is someone who touched us all somehow, and we are there to hear her story.
It is a remarkable opening. Initially there is a sense of confusion - Should we know Liz? - my brain doesn’t instantly tap into Cooper’s technique. But once you realise what is happening and embrace this fictionalised inclusion, a feeling roots you there in Cooper’s presence, denying any distraction from whatever else you might have been thinking about that morning. Cooper is convincing and charming enough to persuade even the most resistant audience member into becoming part of her tale.
However, once the story begins this feeling becomes lost. At least, I yearned for it to return. Cooper’s story is magical: the re-imagined tale of the invention of butterfly stroke, created by a woman whose relationship with water revolves around a tragedy experienced at the shore of her island home. It is told beautifully; Cooper is a performer and storyteller dedicated to instilling a sense of wonder in her audience. But I do wish more was made of our reasons for being there. I wanted to know how I knew Liz, why I needed to be there to hear about her life.
Perhaps this is a selfish request from such a sensitive and well-crafted piece. Such interesting experiences should be acknowledged and cultivated. As Cooper says good-bye and invites us to return to our normal lives - fictional and real - there is a sense that something very special has taken place, but also that this something doesn’t quite realise the emotional power that it contains. It’s not a waste, more an exciting glimpse of something truly beautiful just out of reach.