This month, O’Sullivan will act in Rape of Lucrece at the International Festival, and perform her album at the Fringe, says Richard Fitzpatrick
SINGER Camille O’Sullivan will be the first person to perform in the Edinburgh International Festival and the more renowned Edinburgh Festival Fringe in the same year. She will make the crossover this month. .
Camille, as the Cork performer is known, was commissioned by the Royal Shakespeare Company to adapt (with her musical collaborator, Feargal Murray, and director Elizabeth Freestone) The Rape of Lucrece, which she first performed in a solo production last year.
Shakespeare’s tragic poem hinges on the fallout from the rape of Lucrece, wife of a king’s retainer, by the king’s son, Tarquin. The ensuing revolt led to the founding of the Roman republic in the sixth century BC. “You have to leave your own feelings about the rape at the door,” she says. “Of course, you think that Tarquin is a bastard and I would like the audience not to like him, but for a minute’s joy he destroyed his own life and hers.
“Why would she decide to kill herself after an event like that, however brutal it was? You don’t just make black-and-white decisions — he’s bad; she’s good. You really show the psyche of what’s going on in a person’s mind. He’s deliberating: ‘she’s so beautiful, should I do it, shouldn’t I’? The moment he does, he’s like a dog that has to run away. He realises what he has done. You don’t feel terrible for him, but you understand that he’s ashamed, too.
“Her torture happens right after that, where she becomes almost animal-like. Before, she’s quite pure and gentle and regal and innocent. She’s almost like an animal railing against the world, because she’s having a breakdown, in a sense. She is so exhausted at the end of it, that clarity comes to her and she calms down and realises that the only way she can rid herself of this indignity is to kill herself, so it rids the poison out of her life and her husband’s life.”
Camille will perform songs from her new album, Changeling, as part of her run in the Fringe, which includes two of her crowd favourites, Nick Cave’s The Ship Song and Trent Reznor’s Hurt. Her full-blooded performances are the stuff of lore. Her hypnotic stage presence stems, in part, from the advice of Agnes Bernelle, one of the great old Berlin cabaret singers, who Camille befriended in Dublin in the mid-1990s. The story’s the thing, Bernelle said — to do this right you have to be a better actor than singer.
“Narrative stories are what I’m into,” says Camille, “Most of the people I like to sing — Dylan, Cohen and Cave — use their own songs. They sound very truthful. She was a lady of 70-something when I saw her. I thought, ‘right, it’s not about sexuality, which a lot of women use on stage to bring you to them. It’s really about inhabiting a song’.
“It was a great piece of advice. My training then came from the stage. It didn’t come from school. I might have become a little bit more manufactured if I’d been trained. All the things I do are by instinct. Since I’ve been little — and I love to dance — I’ve had a feeling for a song; it just moves me.
“How do I translate that? I don’t think in terms of chords. I don’t know how to play music. So when I’m talking to the band, it’s all about emotion — there’s sadness here, darkness there. When I visualise a song, it’s very much pictures in my head. I’ll have a film reel going: maybe an image of my mum in the past, or somebody I’ve been involved with. That brings it very truthfully to me. Of course, I want to sing well, but I’m not worrying about the notes. That’s what interpreting is — you’re almost like an actress singing a monologue.”
Camille’s more anxious about her week performing in The Rape of Lucrece, during which she will forgo her usual glass of wine before going on stage, because of the concentration required.
“I always remember coming to the last furlong of the show; and I could feel my knees trembling, because I had to keep it going right to the end. When I came off stage, I always felt like fainting. It’s one thing doing a monologue for an hour when it’s normal speaking, because your markers can be normal conversation. When it is verse, you’re on a train — I cannot mess up a Shakespeare verse,” she says, laughing, “because I don’t know what to put in its place.”
* Camille O’Sullivan performs Changeling, 10.25pm, Saturday, Aug 4 — Tuesday, Aug 7, Assembly Rooms, George St, Edinburgh; and in Royal Shakespeare Company’s Rape of Lucrece, 9pm, Wednesday, Aug 22 — Sunday, Aug 26, Royal Lyceum Theatre, Grindlay St, Edinburgh. Further information: www.camilleosullivan.com
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