Cork native takes to the stage in Shakespeare's poem of rape and its aftermath

Camille O’Sullivan returns in Shakespeare’s poem of rape and its aftermath, writes Esther McCarthy

Cork native takes to the stage in Shakespeare's poem of rape and its aftermath

Camille O’Sullivan returns in Shakespeare’s poem of rape and its aftermath, writes Esther McCarthy

It was the performance that brought her around the world and singled her out as a great acting talent as well as singer. Now Cork’s Camille O’Sullivan is returning to the stage with her unique take on Shakespeare’s The Rape of Lucrece. Directed by Elizabeth Freestone, O’Sullivan teams with long-time musical collaborator Feargal Murray to bring this take of violence, innocence and power to the Gate’s stage.

It’s a new take on the show she previously toured with the Royal Shakespeare Company and she has fond memories of bringing it to Cork a number of years ago, shortly after she’d begun dating actor Aidan Gillen.

“He came to see me in the Cork Opera House actually. It was the early days of our courting. He surprised me. And afterwards he said: ‘You did good!’” she laughs. “I think being a Cork girl is what sealed my fate, because he loves Cork. We went on a bar crawl. The RSC also said it was their favourite place on the whole tour. I loved it because I’m a proud Cork girl.

“What’s sweet is that neither of us had seen each other on stage (before they started dating). He’s very supportive and very honest with me. I love his work ethic, it’s a vocation and that’s very much where the similarities between him and I lie.”

She is both excited and daunted at the prospect of bringing this new interpretation to Dublin’s Gate.

“We’ve recreated it. It’s so ingrained, what I do instinctively on stage hasn’t stopped but it’s how the stage is set. And a little older maybe, a few things happening along the way, life’s ups and downs that change to even a more rounded person on stage. That’s what the director found in me, she said it’s fascinating to see.

“I was terrified learning it again. I was like, four pages a day, two months ago, going: ‘Oh my God, how am I going to do this?!’ I’m not trained as an actress. I’ve done all my performing learning it from the stage. What’s lovely about it is that a lot of people didn’t really know that poem. It’s a poem that’s one-dimensional and we turned it into a play, and what’s fascinating about it is not many Shakepeare plays give a woman’s voice such a long time on stage.”

She says the musicality of Shakepeare’s language helped her and Murray in adapting some of the verse to song. “What I’ve discovered through the years is somehow Fergal and I know how to take songs and make the lyrics stand out. Complete respect to anyone I sing because I adore their music for starters, but I have to try and make it my own because if not, then I’m going to be some sort of tribute.

“Rhyme in a Shakespeare poem is — luckily — different to a play, and that makes it easier to put music to. You’re swimming in Shakespeare’s language. The title is horrible, but the poem is so beautiful, so haunting and so moving.”

O’Sullivan was recently delighted to take to the stage along with Bono and Nick Cave for Shane MacGowan’s sixtieth birthday celebrations. “There were so many different emotions. I love Shane dearly, I’m a big fan, I’ve toured with The Pogues. Then the person who I love most as a writer, Nick Cave, was there. Johnny Depp on stage and Imelda May and Cerys Matthews, some of my favourite singers, and then the sadness of poor Dolores O’Riordan, we were all going on stage when we heard the news. It was heartbreaking to be there with all these other musicians who were Irish and thinking of her.

“It was just so emotional. Shane has written some of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard in my life, they’re a testament to him. He’ll always have them.”

The Rape of Lucrece runs at Dublin’s Gate Theatre from tonight to April 7

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