Circa Two, Circa Theatre, 1 Taranaki St, Waterfront, Wellington

05/03/2016 - 05/03/2016

Q Theatre Loft, 305 Queen St, Auckland

09/03/2016 - 13/03/2016

New Zealand Festival of the Arts 2016

Auckland Arts Festival 2016

Production Details

We know it as the “butterfly stroke” but to Elizabeth Moncello growing up on Australia’s Gabo Island in the 1930s it was the “dolphin”.

So reveals Alice Mary Cooper, who with highly expressive storytelling brings us the unofficial history of how Liz invented the butterfly/dolphin with the help of fish, penguins and other aquatic friends.

Waves is about a lonely girl finding the courage to do something astonishing. It is funny, moving, and equally absorbing for children and adults.

CIRCA TWO, Wellington
Saturday 05 Mar 2016, 2:00pm & 7:00pm
Adult A $49.00
Child $19.00
Recommended for ages 8+
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Also showing at
Ōtaki Civic Theatre
 02 Mar
Carterton Events Centre
 03 Mar

Q LOFT, Auckland
Wed 9, Thu 10 & Sun 12 Mar 2016, 6:30pm
Sun 13 Mar 2016, 4:00pm
$15 – $39

You can also experience this at
Artworks Theatre, Waiheke
Barnett Hall, Piha

Theatre , Family ,

50 min

Playfully blurs margins between fact and fiction

Review by Paul Simei-Barton 14th Mar 2016

Among the razzle-dazzle of the big shows, the Auckland Arts Festival always throws up some hidden gems like Waves, an enchanting story about a young girl who develops a passion for swimming and finds fulfillment by trusting in the power of her own ingenuity.

Written and performed by Alice Mary Cooper, it delivers an object lesson on how the art of story-telling can transport us into another world. A deft combination of voice, movement and music conjures up the sheer joy of plunging into the sea while the story playfully blurs the boundaries between truth and fiction. [More


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Lady in the Water

Review by Nathan Joe 12th Mar 2016

Inspired by her own love of swimming, and developed from an earlier short story, Alice Mary Cooper’s Waves is a piece of historical fiction that disguises itself as a true story. In fact, the presentation of the story was told so earnestly I didn’t realise the full extent of what was made up until I read the programme afterwards. An impressive feat in itself. 

Staged simply with a chair, a table and a few items, Cooper tells us the story of Elizabeth Moncello and her extraordinary life as a pioneering female swimmer. It begins with their first meeting at Edinburgh hospice with Cooper as a caregiver. Then it traces back to Elizabeth’s formative years growing up in Australia’s Gabo Island in the 1930s. At the foreground of the story is the relationship between Elizabeth and the sea. [More


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An inspiring tale of discovery, goal-setting and not giving up

Review by Raewyn Whyte 10th Mar 2016

Alice Mary Cooper is a vivacious and charming storyteller. Her solo performance work, Waves, presents the beguiling tale of Elizabeth Mary Moncello, an Australian woman who grew up on the tiny Gabo Island off the eastern Victoria coast in the 1920s and 30s.

Elizabeth invented her own version of the butterfly stroke (with a dolphin kick) and, as a teenager under the coaching of Fanny Durock, swam to a gold medal at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Later she married and moved to Edinburgh where she coached swimmers and after 50 years ended her days in a hospice.

As the narrator, Cooper passes on Elizabeth’s story as it was told to her, being at once herself and Elizabeth, smoothly switching voices and personas in the process of recalling the various significant incidents which Elizabeth has shared with her. Subtle lighting changes and occasional recorded inserts help to bring veracity to these scenes, as do her use of simple objects including a teacup and saucer, a large red book and a red cricket ball. 

The narrator is an Australian care worker at that very same Edinburgh hospice where Elizabeth Moncello is ending her days. Her first encounter with Elizabeth comes when the feisty 95 year-old Liz is skinny-dipping in the hospice pool at midnight with another similarly old naked lady. Unable to persuade the ladies to get out of the pool, the care worker makes a bargain with them, just 15 minutes more while she watches over them.

Subsequently, she comes to know Liz and hear her life story in daily dollops, and she shares many of these incidents with us, retelling them with insight and compassion, and animating them with a wonderfully expressive face and just enough movement to share the key aspects of the original events. 

Cooper has a wonderful mastery of facial expressions, and her variously expressed vocal and physical portraits of Elizabeth bring her story to life with a good deal of comedy. She also distills the essence of each experience to build her portrait of Moncello and her achievements, ultimately adding up to an inspiring tale of discovery, goal-setting and not giving up your dream.

Elizabeth Moncello cannot be found in the history books, not even in herstory books, and the official inventor of the butterfly stroke is recorded as being Australian Sydney Cavill, in 1933. But who is to say Elizabeth Moncello didn’t invent it? 


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Lively delight appeals to all ages

Review by John Smythe 05th Mar 2016

What a story! Told just in time, too, by a 95 year-old Elizabeth Moncello, to care-giver Alice Mary Cooper at the Marie Curie Hospice in Edinburgh. Who knew what we now call the butterfly stroke was invented by an Australian schoolgirl in the 1930s?

Mind you, she called it the dolphin, having put the final piece in place after observing a pod of ‘water kangaroos’. Initially she had experimented with techniques she had studied in fish and penguins. But it was the butterflies she felt in her stomach – on realising her cricket-obsessed little brother, Eddie, had chased his prized red ball into the sea – that sparked off her extraordinary quest.

Living on barely-inhabited Gabo Island, just 600 metres off the North East coast of Victoria, both hindered and helped her come to terms with the sea. Although she went to school by ferry – and church in the weekends – the isolation allowed her to focus on her own obsession.  

All this is reported in the past tense because that is how solo performer Alice Mary Cooper tells it, maintaining the narrative voice without impersonating Elizabeth or anyone else – except through physicality. While she makes it seem almost incidental, her training at L’Ecole Philippe Gaulier lifts the verbal storytelling into a higher realm. 

Pitching her performance at children with childlike repetitions, Cooper’s lively delight in her subject nevertheless appeals to all ages. Judicious lighting and sound effects (which I cannot attribute because there is no programme) enhance the drama at just the right level.

Many intriguing details pepper the tale, adding veracity to what is nevertheless an extraordinary footnote in history.* Luminaries like Fanny Durack, who has an Aquatic Centre named after her in Sydney’s Summer Hill, loom large as we follow Elizabeth’s progress from butterfly-stroking to church of a Sunday to the Berlin Summer Olympics in 1936.

What a stroke of luck that Elizabeth Moncello and Alice Mary Cooper just happened to coincide. Otherwise we would never have known …

Spoiler alert:
*It’s only when I Google ‘Elizabeth Moncello’, fume about how history ignores the great women athletes, then Google ‘Butterfly Stroke History’ that I realise there is more than a whiff of Forgotten Silver here. Now I am even more impressed!


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