Elliot Douglas reviews Calypso, Phoebe Angeni’s one-woman performance art show.
On The Rocks is slowly coming to a stylish end after a week of diverse and exciting performances, and to round off my own personal week I was witness to one of the best pieces of art I have seen in my five years at St Andrews. Framed against a pink sunset, Phoebe Angeni’s self-composed piece of performance art Calypso on Castle Sands left a chilly and supportive audience in breathless rapture.
Angeni had clearly had a word with Mother Nature herself because, after being cancelled owing to bad weather last week, the great Weather Goddess in the sky was very much on Angeni’s side on the last Saturday of the festival. Yes, there was a strong wind blowing (when isn’t there in St Andrews?) but the sun reflected against the clouds and slowly-encroaching tide made me wonder, for at least a moment, if I had actually been transported to a Greek island. The audience were led down from the clifftops in groups, to find a large fire, a mysterious stone circle and Angeni herself, resplendent in a flowery kimono-style garment and black underwear.
The show itself comprised poetry, singing, dance and movement. The repetitive nature of the poetry, influenced by Flarf, drove the message home a little too clearly at times, but Angeni’s delivery and self-belief stopped this from being problematic. Defiantly making eye contact with the audience, she dared them to laugh at her – dared them to not take seriously the message of self-love and feminist relationship with nature which she so passionately believed in. In that moment, as the graceful Yogi moved her body around the fire circle, you couldn’t help but take her message seriously. Cynicism would have been even more ridiculous.
The audience was beckoned to follow her over the space of the beach, at one point close to the water’s edge while Angeni performed a balancing act around the edges of the old swimming pool which defines Castle Sands. I caught my breath a few times, wondering if the barefoot goddess would slip on the wet, seaweed-covered rocks. I’m happy to report that she didn’t.
In a magnificent strip tease on the top of a rock, Angeni ended the show as the sun began to disappear, somehow managing to prevent her skin from turning blue as the bundled-up audience in front of her shivered into the sand. She ended the show by inviting us to come closer to the fire and warm up. A one-woman show is hard to pull off, especially without the advantage of special effects of staging, but Angeni managed to keep a large audience enraptured over thirty minutes. She can leave her final St Andrews show proud of having achieved something unique, astonishing and – I strongly believe – important.