The Rape of Lucrece
Bold interpretation of Shakespeare's poem from Edinburgh favourite Camille O'Sullivan
This article is from 2012.
It’s not every performer at the Edinburgh International Festival that enters to applause and finishes to a standing ovation but, then, Camille O’Sullivan is not just any performer. Having built an impressive following over the years as a mesmerising cabaret-style singer and storyteller on the Fringe, there’s a palpable feeling of goodwill towards her latest theatrical venture, first staged in Stratford upon Avon in 2011. Happily, O’Sullivan’s departure from chansons and torch songs to a one-woman rendition of Shakespeare’s tragic narrative poem largely justifies the enthusiasm and expectation of her audience.
Clad in a simple black changshan with her hair pulled back from her face, at first O’Sullivan takes on the role of detached narrator, introducing herself as our 'guide' to the brutally simple tale of King Tarquin’s violation of Lucrece, the wife of his friend Collatinus, the bloody aftermath of which leads to the founding of the Roman republic. The economy of the staging, including Lily Arnold's striking set, a gallery of burnt canvases of varying shapes and sizes, and Vince Herbert's deceptively simple lighting design, throws the focus onto O'Sullivan and her accompanist/fellow composer, Feargal Murray. The sung passages, while hauntingly melodic, are all the more disarming for the compelling scratchy quality of Camille's voice.
If such spare staging means that the detail of the story doesn't always come over, there aren't many other performers with the charisma and courage to bring the Bard's language and the story to life with such urgency. The moment of the rape and its aftershock are delivered with typical intensity from O'Sullivan, tearing off her long coat to reveal the simple white slip beneath. But it's in the quieter moments that she reveals herself as a consummate actress with a deep understanding of her material, capable of breaking hearts with scarcely a flicker, and creating a wonderfully intimate atmosphere, even in the grand surrounds of the Lyceum.
Royal Lyceum Theatre, 473 2000, until 26 Aug, 9pm, £10–£30.